For the longest time, it seemed like the Detroit Lions couldn’t figure out their right tackle situation. They shuffled through guys like Gosder Cherilus, LaAdrian Waddle, Michael Ola, and Riley Reiff, but could never find a guy reliable enough to lock down that right edge.
Then general manager Bob Quinn got aggressive. In 2017, he made free agent Rick Wagner one of the richest right tackles in the league, and the veteran has stuck for the time being.
But has his Lions career been a success? Let’s take a closer look at Rick Wagner.
Expectations before 2018
Quietly, Rick Wagner had a pretty fantastic 2017 season. He finished with an overall grade of 82.2, which ranked 10th at his position (Note: PFF has since changed their grading system and now his 2017 season carries a 75.2 grade). A quiet performance at right tackle is a good one, and expectations were that he’d carry that performance into the second year of his five-year contract.
Actual role in 2018
2018 stats: 15 games (15 starts)
PFF grade: 71.6 (28th among OTs)
Wagner took a mild step back in 2018, and there were some signs of serious regression. PFF credited Wagner with eight sacks allowed (competitor STATS credited him with 5.5), tied for the fifth-most (ed. note: more = bad) among all NFL tackles. That being said, he still earned a solid grade of 76.2 as a pass blocker and allowed just 25 total pressures.
In other words, the sack numbers are a little inflated for Wagner relative to how he played overall.
Still, he has a lot of room to improve—especially as a run blocker—and he didn’t quite meet expectations in 2018. He only counted $5.9 million against the cap last year, so it’s not like he cost the Lions a ton, but that hit goes way up in 2019 and remains at that higher level for the rest of the contract, so Wagner’s play needs to rebound.
Outlook for 2019
Contract status: Signed through 2021 season
For now, Wagner’s job is as safe as anyone else’s on the roster. Detroit’s depth on the edges does not look very good, and while fans are still high on 2018 fifth-round pick Tyrell Crosby, there are no indications the Lions are interested in slotting him into the starting lineup.
All that being said, the way Wagner’s contract is set up, there’s reason to believe Wagner is very much on the hot seat this year. Like this year, his 2020 cap hit will be $11.9 million, but Detroit can save $6.1 million in cap space should they cut him next offseason ($9 million if they designate him with a post-June 1 release).
If Crosby starts to show some serious improvements in training camp and practice, the Lions could realistically move on from Wagner next season. However, considering Detroit’s already shaky depth at the tackle position, I’m not sure that would be the best course of action. Still, there’s no doubt Wagner has to be better in 2019.