It’s still very early and we we still know very little about Taylor Decker’s shoulder injury that caused him to have surgery on Monday, but there’s little doubt that Detroit is in the market to upgrade at offensive tackle. There’s still a chance that Decker misses little-to-no time in the regular season, but Detroit could still use some help, if for no other reason, than to take some reps during the remaining OTA practices and likely for training camp, as well.
So with that in mind, let’s take a look at some players available in free agency that could help fill out the rest of Detroit’s tackle depth chart while Decker is on the mend. Keep in mind that we’re in June and the options are not exactly great.
If talent was the only gauge, Dunlap would be a steal at this point in free agency. At 31 years old, he is easily the most experienced left tackle on the market, and his recent play is good enough to warrant a starting position. In 12 starts with the Los Angeles Chargers, Dunlap graded out as the 53rd-best offensive tackle, just a few spots behind Riley Reiff (48th). Those aren’t outstanding numbers, but for someone available in June, they’re not bad.
Unfortunately, there’s more to the story with Dunlap. First, there is a laundry list of injuries that follow Dunlap. He’s suffered several knee injuries throughout the course of his career and has only finished a complete season once since joining the league in 2009.
More importantly, however, may be Dunlap’s off-the-field issues. Back in February, Dunlap was arrested for violating a protective order, which was requested by his then girlfriend eight days prior to the arrest. Dunlap’s lawyer told WKRN in Nashville that there was simply “a misunderstanding between the parties.” The case was eventually dismissed, but the Lions have walked a thin line on any sort of domestic disputes in the past.
The Chargers ended up releasing Dunlap a month later after signing him to a four-year, $28 million extension back in 2015. The move came shortly after signing Russell Okung in free agency.
Speaking of injury issues, the former Broncos and Jets tackle is full of them. Though he’s made the Pro Bowl four times in his career—and as recently as 2014—Clady is about to turn 31 years old and is recovering from multiple injuries. Last year with the Jets, Clady was placed on IR after suffering a torn rotator cuff and undergoing shoulder surgery. He also missed the entire 2015 season and most of his 2013 season due to a torn ACL and a Lisfranc injury respectively.
Clady was once one of the best tackles in the game, but age and injury have caught up to him. Even if he’s healthy enough to play for the 2017 season, it’s unlikely he’ll ever return to a Pro Bowl level of play.
Completing the injury-riddled veteran triad is former Giants Will Beatty. In his eight-year career with the Giants, Beatty suffered a foot injury, a broken leg, a detached retina, a disrupted sciatic nerve in his back and—most recently in 2015—a torn pectoral and rotator cuff.
Once considered one of the best left tackles in the game, Beatty has seen injuries derail his career. Last year, the Giants re-signed Beatty only to have him sit on the sidelines for nearly the entire season, despite, by Beatty’s admission being physically healthy.
The Lions could use Beatty’s veteran savvy at this point as a short-term fill in, but chances are the 32-year-old’s play is no longer up to snuff.
If the Lions are looking for a more reliable, youthful option than the three above, Austin Pasztor presents an interesting option. Pasztor was the fourth overall selection... in the 2012 CFL draft. Pasztor eventually landed on the Jacksonville Jaguars roster and became their starting right tackle in 2013. He ended up starting 23 games for the Jaguars before being waived as part of their 2015 roster cuts.
Pasztor was immediately claimed by the Cleveland Browns and started 15 games at right tackle for them in 2015. Interestingly, however, the Browns shifted him to right guard in the season finale. Pasztor earned an above-average rating of 77.3 from Pro Football Focus, ranking him 30th among guards and 34th among tackles.
Pasztor’s play has been adequate enough to warrant a spot on an NFL roster, but he’s an extremely unlikely candidate to play left tackle. He has always been better suited as a guard, but that doesn’t mean he’d been worthless to Detroit.
If OTAs are any indication, the Lions are trying out Joe Dahl as a left tackle. If Dahl were to take over the position while Decker rehabs, that would leave a significant hole in the roster at guard. Don’t forget, projected starting right guard T.J. Lang is, too, still recovering from surgery, so the Lions are extra short on guards for OTAs and minicamp. Pasztor could be the perfect stopgap replacement as an interior linemen, and also take reps at tackle, if needed.