For years, the Detroit Lions have struggled to protect Matthew Stafford. He’s been one of the most sacked quarterbacks over the past decade and has understandably had to battle through injuries because of it.
Although 2019 was the first year since 2010 that Stafford missed games due to an injury, he was on pace to suffer the fewest sacks in a season since 2013.
So does that mean the offensive line is finally starting to do their job? Should the Detroit Lions be happy with where their at up front, specifically at the tackle positions? Let’s break down the offensive tackles currently on roster and the important decisions facing Detroit going into 2020.
(Final year under contract in parentheses)
Under contract: Rick Wagner (2021), Taylor Decker (2020), Tyrell Crosby, (2021), Dan Skipper (2020), Matt Nelson (2020)
Free agent: None
The Detroit Lions don’t necessarily have to add any talent, and they literally don’t have any tackles becoming free agents, but that doesn’t mean they don’t face any tough decisions at the position. In fact, both starters—Rick Wagner and Taylor Decker—pose different, but important conundrums.
For Wagner, 2020 is the first realistic year the Lions could choose to move on from their pricey right tackle. He’s due to count $11.9 million against the cap, which is fourth highest among all right tackles. The Lions could cut Wagner and create $6.1 million in cap space, though they’d have to eat $5.8 million in dead cap. Backup Tyrell Crosby has proved to be adequate in replacement, but to promote him as a full-time starter would burn Detroit’s best swing tackle, capable of backing up both positions.
As for Decker, he’s entering the final year of his rookie deal. After an extremely impressive finish to the 2019 season, he’s due for a big pay raise. Left tackles aren’t cheap in this league—top-tier players earn anywhere between $13-$16 million per year—but they are also tough to find. Will the Lions ride out the final year of Decker’s rookie contract like they did with Graham Glasgow, or will they lock him down before the season starts?
Level of need: 2/10
While the Lions could certainly save money by cutting Wagner, they aren’t a cap-strapped team and there’s no real need in creating another hole on the roster when Wagner’s play has been around average since landing in Detroit. Could the Lions use an upgrade at right tackle? Of course, Wagner is coming off his worst career year, per PFF. Do they need an upgrade there? Probably not.
In reality, the Lions likely have their top three tackles already on their roster, meaning their only big decision at tackle this year is the future of Taylor Decker. He’ll be an expensive re-signing, but considering the massive needs elsewhere, the Lions should probably just lock Decker up to keep some sort of continuity on an offensive line unit that showed significant improvement in 2019.