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3 reasons why the Lions made the right decision with Ricky Wagner

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The Lions were smart to snag OT Ricky Wagner. Here’s why.

St Louis Rams v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions made their first splash in free agency on Wednesday when news broke that they had agreed in principle with Ravens offensive tackle Ricky Wagner for north of $9 million per year. The move came quickly and out of nowhere, considering many—myself included—believed negotiations were still going on with Lions right tackle Riley Reiff.

Admittedly, I was hoping the Lions would re-sign Reiff. Just this morning, I said that bringing back Reiff should be the Lions’ “highest priority.” But after looking more into the Wagner news, not only am I okay with the move, I actually prefer signing Wagner to bringing back Reiff. Here’s why:

Ricky Wagner is an upgrade over Riley Reiff

My biggest concerns with letting Reiff go was that he has knowledge of the Lions’ system, has chemistry with their players and there was a weak market out there for his replacements.

All of those worries are completely mitigated by the fact that Wagner is just a better overall player than Reiff. The folks at Pro Football Focus are big fans of Wagner:

The Lions also upgraded in run blocking (the “other two” referenced are Reiff and D.J. Fluker) :

But the praise goes well beyond PFF. The folks at Baltimore Beatdown really wanted the Ravens to bring Wagner back. They considered re-signing Wagner the No. 1 priority for the Ravens.

Wagner is a notch below the best right tackles in the league, but he is definitely above average at the position. According to Ken McKusick of Russell Street Report, Wagner has earned a B grade or above in ten of the 13 games he evaluated this season. Wagner has proven himself to be durable as well, only missing one game to injury in 2016, and two total regular season games over the last three seasons combined.

Equally adept at run and pass blocking, Wagner would create a formidable bookend offensive tackle pairing with Ronnie Stanley if the Ravens are able to resign [sic] him.

Wagner did have a concerning 2015 season, in which he allowed 52 pressures, but that appears to be the exception not the rule with Wagner.

Money isn’t a big issue

If there has been any backlash surrounding the Wagner signing, it has been in reaction to the rumored $9 million per year Wagner will be earning. Granted, that number is huge. The only right tackle currently making more is Lane Johnson, but he is expected to take over the left tackle position soon. The next closest per-year average among right tackles is Bryan Bulaga at $6.75 million.

However, this isn’t a big deal for a few reasons. First, this is how the market is trending. Right tackles are becoming just as valuable on the field as left tackles, so it was only a matter of time before the salaries catch up. Reiff is expected to sign a very similar deal to Wagner, so they likely wouldn’t have saved much, if any, money by retaining him.

More importantly the Lions can afford this. Of their projected four other starters on the offensive line in 2017, every single one of them is still on a cheap, rookie contract. Taylor Decker has the biggest cap hit among them at about $2.5 million. By spending so many draft resources on the offensive line over the past four years, the Lions have afforded room to splurge on right tackle.

Wagner won’t be a Bear or Viking

Wagner was likely the best right tackle on the market, and now that the Lions will be signing him, Detroit can rest easy knowing the Bears or Vikings won’t be earning his services. Both Minnesota and Chicago had serious offensive line problems in 2016, and both were reportedly seeking out Wagner’s services.

This move is not only a positive for the Lions, but a negative for the Bears and Vikings, who will now have to fight among the remaining tackles available on the market.