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2023 Detroit Lions free agent profile: Could Ross Pierschbacher be the team’s backup center?

The Detroit Lions may have a new backup center in 2023. Could it be Ross Pierschbacher?

NFL: DEC 04 Jaguars at Lions Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Our one-free-agent-a-day series continues for the Detroit Lions, as we examine each internal decision the team must make before even considering adding any other teams’ free agents. We’ve already worked our way through the Lions’ unrestricted free agents. If you missed any of those previous articles, you can check them out here: WR DJ Chark, RB Justin Jackson, QB Nate Sudfeld, LB Chris Board, S DeShon Elliott, RB Jamaal Williams, IOL Evan Brown, OT Dan Skipper, NT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, EDGE Austin Bryant, LB Alex Anzalone, LB Josh Woods, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, CB Amari Oruwariye, SAF C.J. Moore, and K Michael Badgley

Our series continues this week with our first installment of Detroit’s restricted free agents: OT Matt Nelson.

Now let’s stick with another offensive lineman who is a restricted free agent.

Ross Pierschbacher

Expectations heading into 2022

Pierschbacher was a 2019 fifth-round pick of the Washington Football Team. He spent two years there before a stint with the Philadelphia Eagles, and most recently spent time—including the 2022 offseason—as a member of the New York Jets. Throughout his first three years in the league, he had made just eight career game appearances for a total of 20 special teams snaps. He had not made his NFL debut on offense yet.

He played a healthy 121 offensive snaps in the preseason this past year, earning just a 58.7 PFF grade, but allowing only a single pressure on 76 pass blocking reps. Additionally, he split his time almost evenly among every interior offensive line position: 64 snaps at center, 28 snaps at left guard, 29 at right guard.

Unfortunately for Pierschbacher, it wasn’t enough to make the Jets final roster and he was waived in the final round of cuts. However, about a week later, the Lions came calling amidst a terrible string of luck with their interior offensive lineman. Before Detroit had even played a single regular season game, they had placed starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai on IR and primary backup Tommy Kraemer quickly followed on the injury list. Both of those players would end up playing zero games for the Lions in Detroit, so interior depth was needed, and the Lions were hoping Pierschbacher’s versatility could give them multiple options.

Actual role in 2022

3 games (0 starts): 19 special teams snaps. Zero plays on offense.

The injuries would not stop there for the Lions. Center Frank Ragnow would suffer a toe injury that caused him to miss an early game and hamper his entire 2022 season. Starting left guard Jonah Jackson suffered a finger injury that cost him three games and a concussion that caused him to miss another. Backup center Evan Brown shuffled all over the offensive line until an ankle injury sidelined him for three games. Kayode Awosika—another midseason addition who got his shot on the field—missed time with a hamstring and ankle injury. Even Logan Stenberg got a shot at playing guard before quickly being benched (twice).

Yet despite all of that shifting along the interior offensive line, Pierschbacher spent almost the entire season on the team’s practice squad, before getting signed to the active roster in mid-December. Even still, he was mostly inactive on Sundays, and when he did make the gameday roster, he was strictly on special teams.

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Restricted free agent

Giving Pierschbacher a restricted free agent tender is simply out of the question. There is nothing to suggest the Lions want him back enough to pay him—at a minimum—$2.6 million.

But would they be willing to bring him back on a minimum salary deal?

That likely depends on the decision the Lions have with backup center Evan Brown, who is an unrestricted free agent. Many believe Brown could realistically seek starter money somewhere given his decent level of play over the past two years. If he signs elsewhere, the Lions would suddenly find themselves without a capable backup center.

If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pierschbacher back. Yes, he hasn’t had an opportunity to play a regular season offensive snap in his young career, but he’s only 27 years old, and he’s now had a year under offensive line coach Hank Fraley and the Lions’ offensive scheme.

Pierschbacher was a four-year starter at Alabama, so the kid knows how to ball, and his versatility is something that is coveted by most offensive line coaches.

That said, if the Lions can’t retain Brown and decide to bring back Pierschbacher, they would be wise to add some competition before heading into training camp. In fact, after a tough year for most of the reserve interior offensive linemen, Detroit should consider a significant investment or two in the position.


Should the Lions re-sign Ross Pierschbacher?

This poll is closed

  • 28%
    (338 votes)
  • 54%
    Only if Evan Brown signs elsewhere
    (641 votes)
  • 16%
    (189 votes)
1168 votes total Vote Now

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