Lions get serious about protecting Matthew Stafford by landing Ricky Wagner 

1:00 | NFL
Three players poised to cash in during free agency
Wednesday March 8th, 2017

GRADE: B

A year after landing their franchise left tackle in the draft, the Lions have settled things on the right side, too. Detroit has agreed to a deal with ex-Ravens OT Ricky Wagner worth over $9 million per season, according to the NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport.

Wagner will replace impending free agent Riley Reiff on the Lions’ line, and this news comes mere days after Detroit GM Bob Quinn said at the combine that he “had discussions” with both Reiff and guard Larry Warford (also set to be a FA) and that the Lions were “working toward” re-signing those players. Reiff certainly won’t be back, and the price paid to Wagner could make it hard to retain Warford.

Regardless, landing Wagner counts as a coup for Quinn. A starter for the Ravens the past three seasons, Wagner was at or near the top of the OT market as free agency approached. Pro Football Focus had him ranked second among available tackles, behind only Cincinnati’s Andrew Whitworth.

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With 47 starts under his belt, Wagner could be the Lions’ elder statesmen up front if Warford departs. Left tackle Taylor Decker and guard/center Graham Glasgow were 2016 draft picks, while center Travis Swanson has 31 starts to his credit.

“You can’t have all rookies and second-year players on your offensive line,” Quinn said. “I think that’s something that is a philosophy of mine. You can’t go too young.”

What may have tipped the scales as the Lions decided between chasing Wagner or retaining Reiff is that Wagner is locked in as a right tackle. Reiff moved there last off-season, after Decker arrived via the draft, but the prevailing thought has been that he would prefer a shot back at LT in 2017. The Lions were not going to give him a chance to compete there.

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Matthew Stafford should welcome the Wagner move with open arms. Wagner has allowed a total of just 4.5 sacks the past three seasons; Reiff coughed up 11.5 during that same stretch, including 4.0 from the right side last year.

A $9 million-per-year contract would make Wagner the second highest-paid right tackle in football, trailing only Philadelphia’s Lane Johnson (source: Overthecap.com). Depending on his contract breakdown, Wagner could hold the top spot for 2017, as Johnson’s base salary for this upcoming year sits at $7.75 million.

Big money, but an important move for the Lions. While they would love their offense to become more of a force on the ground, priority No. 1 is protecting Matthew Stafford. Between Decker and Wagner, they should be able to accomplish that off the edge most games.

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