On Wednesday, the Detroit Lions announced that they had re-signed Ross Pierschbacher to an undisclosed contract. Pierschbacher was a restricted free agent, but the sides were able to come to terms with needing to rely on the tender.
Pierschbacher was brought in last offseason as a depth piece to help the Lions combat a series of injuries they had on the interior offensive line—most notably, right guards Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Tommy Kraemer being lost for the season due to back injuries.
Despite a nagging injury to Frank Ragnow, the Pro Bowl center was able to play the majority of snaps this season, and when he take snaps off, Evan Brown—who was starting at right guard—slid over to center for those reps. That situation left Pierschbacher in more of an emergency role that saw zero snaps during the regular season on offense.
Heading into the offseason, the Lions offensive line has some potential depth issues they will need to resolve. If Vaitai is able to return to full health, the Lions starting offensive line will return intact and the focus will be on the reserve unit. Adding Pierschbacher helps alleviate some of that pressure, but based on his role last season, it’s hard to project him in a role beyond what it was, meaning the Lions may still be in the market to add depth along the offensive line.
As the situation currently sits, the Lions have all five of their starting offensive linemen under contract, Obinna Eze is the team's only reserve offensive tackle, Pierschbacher is the team only reserve interior offensive lineman with center experience, while the team has three players capable of playing guard: Kayode Awosika, Logan Stenberg, and hybrid guard/tackle Darrin Paulo. Kraemer is also an exclusive right free agent, and if he returns—which he almost certainly will with a potential ERFA designation—he will provide the Lions with another player capable of playing guard and center.
Therefore, if the Lions retain Kraemer, they will have 11 offensive linemen under contract. Typically, they begin camp with 15 players—so they can roll through three offensive lines during practice—so four more linemen can be expected to be added.
With likely four linemen more to add, the Lions have a few options on how they fill those roles. Adding players in free agency seems like a low priority unless Vaiti becomes a cap casualty and the team needs a starter. That means the Lions will likely turn to rookies to fill out the offensive line, both through the draft and after, via undrafted free agency.
By re-signing Pierschbacher, the Lions have opened up their opportunities for the type of offensive lineman they may acquire. Pierschbacher’s ability to play center will allow the Lions to target a player with center experience if they wish, but they will no longer be forced into making sure they specifically target a center-capable player.
For example, this flexibility will allow them to target a player with center experience like TCU’s Steve Avila, while also properly comparing him to a player like Tennessee right tackle Darnell Wright (who looks capable of playing right guard). Both players are ranked fairly close on several draft boards, and previously Avila may have had the edge because of his ability to play center, but now, they can compare the two players without letting positional need impact their decision.
Adding Pierschbacher may seem like an afterthought for many Lions fans, but these types of depth signing are what allows the team to stay flexible in free agency and the draft, thus allowing the team to acquire the best player instead of focusing too heavily on need.