Replacing Taylor Decker was not a situation many Lions fans thought they’d face this season. After all, Decker was one of only 17 players in the league to play all of the snaps possible on their side of the ball in 2016. Alas, the Lions have found themselves in quite a predicament with news breaking of a shoulder injury last week during OTAs, and a surgery on Monday of this week.
The Lions secured an extra $4.8 million in cap space after the post-June 1 designation from the release of DeAndre Levy back in March, and while this brings their cap space to roughly $10.4 million, there are plenty of options regarding how that money should be spent. Imagine if the Lions had acted fast and spent a good chunk of that allowance on Jeremy Maclin...
(You didn’t think it was possible to enter a darker timeline than the one you’re in, did you?)
Should the Lions choose to find Decker’s replacement in-house, there are a couple of options the team could turn to in order to fill the gaping hole at left tackle. Here’s how:
Moving Rick Wagner to the left side after signing a mega-deal to play right tackle on the first day of free agency seems like the least likely option, but only because Caldwell said as much in a press conference today.
Caldwell indicated Rick Wagner will stay at RT. LT options include: Joe Dahl, Corey Robinson, Cornelius Lucas— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) June 6, 2017
With that option tabled, let’s get to the rest of our rankings.
An undrafted free agent from Kansas State, Lucas played in 30 games during his first two seasons with the Lions, earning six starts and not doing a whole lot to instill much confidence in the organization as being a starting tackle in the NFL.
In 2016, Lucas found himself inactive on the game day roster more often than not, but did fill in and play right tackle in Detroit’s Wild Card round matchup against the Seahawks. He was Detroit’s third option at that point, and while he’s back after signing his RFA tender back in April, Lucas isn’t likely to earn the starting job. He was fighting for a spot on the roster, so the injury to Decker may keep his spot on the 53-man roster safe simply due to a lack of bodies, but there are other options Quinn and the coaching staff would rather turn to given their current situation.
Robinson played in a couple of spot starts last season when Riley Reiff wasn’t able to go—Week 9 against the Vikings and Week 17 against the Packers—but he also earned playing time as the team’s third tackle when they couldn’t find a suitable blocking option at tight end.
Robinson suffered a foot injury that ended his 2016 season after his start against Green Bay in Week 17 and landed him an appointment with foot specialist Dr. Robert Anderson. Robinson has yet to participate in OTAs as he continues to rehab from the unspecified foot injury he suffered in December.
Seeing as the Lions used Robinson so often as their third tackle, and he was the team’s first option when Reiff was dealing with injury, he stands a chance to fill in immediately as long as Decker is absent. He’s obviously familiar with the system, and it’s likely the coaching staff and front office are confident in his ability to fill in during a pinch. However, the Lions may find themselves in more of a squeeze with the uncertainty of Decker’s shoulder injury looming, which leads us to the top option to fill in at left tackle for the Lions in 2017.
Dahl has a few things going for him that the other candidates simply do not. For one, Dahl was a part of Quinn’s first draft class in 2016, and he stuck around for the entire season with the main roster. During his rookie season, Dahl saw some playing time late in the season when Travis Swanson suffered a season-ending concussion, sliding in at left guard so Graham Glasgow could anchor the interior of the offensive line.
The learning curve was steep for the former Washington State product during his rookie season. Instead of hitting the ground running, Dahl essentially had start from the basics and develop an understanding for the intricacies of an NFL offense. Here’s what he had to say to ESPN’s Michael Rothstein back in January:
“I’d probably say the biggest change was just learning an offense actually,” Dahl said. “I really had five or six plays in college so just having to learn the complexities of an offense and I had no idea, in terms of how complicated this is relative to other NFL offenses, but compared to my college offense, it was a lot more to take in.”
After spending a season learning, Dahl could be the most ready to step in during Decker’s absence if his football IQ has caught up to his athletic ability—he also stands to benefit the most from this opportunity long-term. His versatility, like most linemen Quinn targets in the draft and free agency, makes him a valuable asset to the team, and while his athleticism would be best utilized at the guard position, he has played tackle—as recently as the Lions final preseason game of 2016.