In this series, I’ll be looking at the Lions position-by-position, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses and looking at what options are available in free agency. Join me as I break down the second position I’ll be looking at…
The Lions offensive tackle position is one of the biggest question marks on the roster going into the off-season. Riley Reiff has been questioned as a left tackle since the day he was drafted. He has proven himself to be a solid lineman, ranking as the number 39 offensive tackle in the NFL according to profootballfocus.com in 2015. This is indicative of a player that does deserve a starting spot in the league. The question still remains about Rieff: is he a good enough left tackle at the NFL level or would he make a better right tackle, or even a guard?
After Rieff there are even more question marks. Michael Ola actually ranked higher in the pro football focus rankings than Rieff did (36) but he could not stay on the field. He was clearly a huge upgrade at the right tackle spot from the hapless Waddle and Lucas turnstile that had been allowing Matthew Stafford to be murdered, but does that really make him the answer at right tackle?
Corey Robinson is a complete unknown at the NFL level, but my impression of his college tape was not great. You know that scene in Talladega Nights where Ricky Bobby doesn’t know what to do with his hands while he’s on camera for the first time? That’s what Corey Robinson’s college tape looked like to me, except with his entire body. But that’s what you get in round seven, a guy who still needs to be coached up. Cornelius Lucas is the only tackle who does not lead to questions. He’s a bad NFL Tackle, that is the answer.
In Free agency the Lions have a few options, but I think that the need they have is for a starting tackle on one side or the other. They have a middling starter in Rieff, a promising young guy who would fit well in the swing tackle backup spot in Ola, a developmental guy in Robinson, and a guy who should fall off the bottom of the 53 man roster during the final cuts this year in Lucas. Here are my top five off-season targets at the Tackle position this year for the Lions, the first four I consider to be legitimate free agency targets, and the fifth requires some shenanigans to even be an option:
Free Agency Offensive Tackle Options:
#1 Cordy Glenn, LT Buffalo Bills
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He is a legitimate NFL Left Tackle, ranked number 10 overall among tackles by PFF and one of the rare legitimate starters at the position that actually might make it to the open market. The Buffalo Bills are currently already over the projected salary cap for next season, and have several high priced extensions to negotiate in the next few years. Glenn is an excellent pass blocker, and if keeping Matthew Stafford upright is a priority for the team, this is the perfect fit, moving Rieff to the right side. The Bills have drafted two tackles with reasonably high picks, so unlike Donald Penn out of Oakland, there is actually a chance that Glenn gets to market.
#2 Joe Barksdale RT, San Diego Chargers
Barksdale was a free agent last year, and I was mystified when the Lions didn’t bring him in given the low dollar value he signed for ($2 million) in San Diego on a one year deal. He is an excellent pass blocker, and a middle of the pack run blocker, which would still be a better showing than the Lions put up this year. The likely smaller contract than the rest of this list does factor into where he’s ranked, but he would be a solid player with a cap friendly contract.
#3 Andre Smith RT, Cincinatti Bengals
He followed his legendary combine 40 yard dash with a good but not great career as a Right Tackle for the Bengals. He’s the road grater type of right tackle that fits the stereotype of the stronger, less agile, pile pusher perfectly. He got in shape for his contract year but got a little banged up during the season and had an off year. That might keep his contract number down, but the difference between the likely contracts of Barksdale and Smith puts Smith at number three.
#4 Mitchell Schwartz RT Cleveland Browns
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He’s a big mauler at 6’5″/320 lbs. Despite having no passing game to speak of, the Browns averaged a respectable 4 yards per carry, their offensive line was a huge reason why. His pass protection however is not his greatest asset. He ranks well in pass protection according to PFF, but stats.com has him at 10 sacks allowed. Without watching every snap of every game, as PFF have, I can say in the two Browns games I watched he did not stand out as being a bad pass blocker, it’s just hard to discount a number in the double digits so he fell on my list.
#5 Ryan Clady OT, Denver Broncos
He’s been injured, but other than that he’s been a very good player. He very well might find himself on the outside looking in as Denver tries to keep their Super Bowl defense together because of that injury history. He’s not a long term solution, but if you’re looking for a guy to come in and make it so your mid-round offensive tackle pick doesn’t have to start in week one, Clady is going to give you that, and if he is rejected by Denver, I can’t see anyone backing up a trailer full of money for a guy that has a history of not finishing the season. If you’re paying him half of what he’s worth, he only has to play 8 games to be worth the money.
The Lions need a starting Tackle. Obviously Webb out of Oakland and Okung out of Seattle would make this list right behind Glenn if I believed there was any chance that they were going to reach free agency; their omission was not unintentional. I would have left Glenn off the list as well if it were not for the Bills’ cap issues, as legitimately skilled left tackles are not often available. The five players above are my top tier, but an honorable mention also goes to Matt Kalil, who is a solid run blocker but has trouble in the left tackle role against the opposition’s premier pass rushers. A switch to the right side could equate to better results from a guy once thought very highly of, at $11.4 million though, there is no way the Vikings are keeping him.
So there you have it, my take on the Lions offensive tackle position. I don’t love PFF’s rankings, but honestly they’re the only guys in the business watching every play, so their opinion, whether right or wrong, is the only one based on full information – and for linemen, one of the few comprehensive opinions available. The lions need to figure out what they believe Rieff is long term, and whether they are alright with that level of performance at their left tackle spot. Next up: with the recent announcement that James Ihedigbo will not be retained, I’ll be throwing safeties at the wall and seeing who sticks.
As always, I can be found on reddit, and my twitter handle is @a5hcrack. In case you missed it in the first article, I’ll be re-tweeting anything funny or particularly sad that I find using #mayhewsucked this week and a few of the best ones will get a shoutout in an upcoming article.