The Detroit Lions made a cost-cutting move on Friday afternoon, cutting veteran offensive tackle Rick Wagner. While the move did end up saving the Lions $6.1 million in cap space, it also created another need on this team—at a starting position, no less.
That being said, the Lions have plenty of ways they can fill this hole on their roster, and plenty of offseason resources to get it done. Let’s look at the few avenues this team could take to fill the void on the right side of their offensive line.
Stick with Tyrell Crosby
The Lions’ 2018 fifth-round pick has started seven games in his first two NFL seasons, including the final three games of 2019 at right tackle while Wagner was injured. His performance has been up and down, as you’d expect from any young player selected that late in the draft, but he finished the year strong.
Head coach Matt Patricia even seemed open to the idea of him starting in 2020 when asked in late December.
“I think right now, he’s done a really good job of just going out and doing his job and playing to the level of what we need him to play for in whatever position, whether it’s left or right in those situations,” Patricia said. “We’ve had a couple packages here where he’s gone in as the extra tight end in some of those groups too. So I think every year is different. I think every year—we’ll see what happens next year with next year. That’s for everybody, but I think right now, he’s doing a good job of trying to do everything he can to help the team in whatever roles he’s asked.”
Pros: He’s an extremely cheap option ($731,921 cap hit) to replace Wagner, and he played around Wagner’s level last year. It would also allow the Lions to spend some of their more valuable resources on other positions, only needing a backup to round up their offensive tackle depth. Additionally, there would me minimal-to-no adjustment to Detroit’s offensive scheme.
Cons: Crosby is still playing at a replacement level, and by making him a starter, you’re taking away his best asset: versatility. Crosby can play both left and right tackle, making him the ideal third tackle on the depth chart. Now if Taylor Decker were to get hurt, the Lions would likely slide Crosby to the left and have to fill in his spot on the right—disrupting two positions instead of one.
Sign a free agent
When searching free agency for a tackle, you’re either going to find average talent or players with red flags—typically injuries. Not a lot of teams just let great offensive linemen hit free agency.
That being said, there are some attractive options for Detroit this year. Jack Conklin is undoubtedly the cream of the crop for the Lions, as the former All Pro is not only a premier talent and a former first-round pick, but he’s also a Michigan native. He had an injury-riddled 2018 season, but he started in all 16 games in the three other years in his young NFL career. In 2019, he finished with a PFF grade of 78.0, good for 12th among all NFL offensive tackles. Conklin has also played exclusively on the right side, so he could slide in seamlessly.
Pros: There’s a pretty talented market out there, and the Lions could upgrade and get immediately contributions out of several players here.
Cons: This is the most costly method, and considering the Lions just took on nearly $6 million in dead money by cutting Wagner, they may not be inclined to spend too much on the position.
Draft a tackle on Day 1
There aren’t many mock drafts with the Lions taking an offensive tackle in the first round, but there are plenty of first-round talent offensive linemen that are expected to go into the top 10. With the Lions now clear players at the position, it’s quite possible Detroit slips out of their third overall pick, and chooses a tackle with their first choice.
Louisville Mekhi Becton, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs and Georgia’s Andrew Thomas are all candidates to go in the top half of the first round in the 2020 NFL Draft, and considering the Lions’ strong ties to both Alabama and Iowa, I would put Wills and Wirfs at the top of their tackle draft board.
Pros: Drafting a tackle this high in the draft not only gives you a premier talent at a low cost, but it also could potentially give Detroit some leverage in contract talks with left tackle Taylor Decker, who is entering a contract year. Any of these players are capable of playing left tackle, and Detroit could hang that over Decker’s head to lower his extension price.
Cons: Spending a valuable resource like a top-10 pick prevents Detroit from getting talent on defense. Additionally, aside from Wirfs and Wills, the top options were all predominantly left tackles, meaning an adjustment would have to be made for their rookie seasons, unless Detroit planned on moving Decker to the right side.
Draft at tackle later in the draft
While the focus has been predominantly on the top four tackles in this draft, the depth is pretty solid in this year’s class, either. As pointed out by PFF’s Brett Whitefield, this year’s class is surprisingly experienced at the right tackle position, too.
AThomas - started whole season at RT— Brett Whitefield (@PFF_Brett) March 14, 2020
Wirfs - basically RT only
Becton - nearly 800 snaps at RT
Wills Jr - RT only
Hunt - Mostly RT (some guard also)
Driscoll - 3+ year starter at RT
Wilson - RT only
Niang - RT only
Peart - Last 2 years at RT
Throckmorton - 40 starts at RT
Keep an eye on UConn’s Matt Peart, who played on Patricia’s North Senior Bowl team back in January, or TCU’s Lucas Niang if he slips into the second round.
Pros: Not a huge investment in offseason resources. There’s enough Day 2 talent that could start right away, meaning there’s a good chance Detroit will not miss out on a talented player. Again, it’s a cheap solution at a big need.
Cons: More draft resources being taken away from the defense. No guarantee that a rookie will give you above replacement level play in his rookie season.
How would you like the Lions to address RT?
This poll is closed
Play Tyrell Crosby
Sign a free agent
Use a first-round draft pick
Use a 2nd or 3rd day pick