Should the Lions extend Larry Warford early?
Let’s objectively look at Warford’s career. As a rookie, Warford came in as a third round pick and took the league by storm. He started from day one and played at a Pro Bowl level, allowing zero sacks, and fitting in perfectly between undrafted free agent right tackle and fellow rookie LaAdrian Waddle, and veteran center Dominic Raiola. It looked after a single season like Martin Mayhew was a mad genius and that the right side of the line had been taken care of for a very long time. Cut to this season, Warford’s first without Dominic Raiola beside him, and Waddle was floundering badly enough to get cut, while Warford missed three games for the second season in a row. Profootballfocus.com has him ranked slightly above the guy who was just added to the deal for Chandler Jones as a throwaway. Johnathan Cooper is ranked five players below Warford in the overall rankings at the guard position (39 vs. 44). He’s gone from a stud rookie to an often injured, middling starter in two seasons. Should the Lions extend Larry Warford early?
What do guards make?
Keliche Osemele just signed a massive deal, but that’s because he’s the kind of player who has shown the ability to play guard, and both tackle spots, and was targeted by a team with an incredible amount of cap space with a need at all three spots. For Warford-comparable players I am going to use two players who have recently signed contracts as middle of the road starters at the guard position, Orlando Franklin (5 years, $35.5 million), and Brandon Brooks (5 years, $40 million) for my year to year comparables – they were well paid, but not outlier overpays (see Osemele above), or incredible bargains (Clint Boling, 5 years, $26 million last year). These are the kind of near but not at the top end deals that I think we could expect Warford to sign if he pulls his game together and gets back to that rookie performance this year, but either way they are comparable for year over year inflation purposes. and not really much different.
But what would he be worth now? Well JR Sweezy, a player who is a name but frankly not much else, a player allowed to walk by a team desperate to shore up it’s offensive line before next season, was just gifted a 5 year $32 million deal by the Bucs. Warford is a better player than Sweezy, but that’s a gross overpay, and tilts the board way too far in the direction of the player in terms of a negotiating platform. In fact not one of the starting caliber guards who has signed a deal this season has been paid less than $5 million per season. Even verified racist and locker room destroyer Richie Incognito got $5 million per year on his new deal with the Bills. In short, $5 million per year is the bottom, the starting point for any talk of an extension. More likely Warford ends up signing a Sweezy like deal, at around that $6.5 million per season mark, or he just waits a year to cash in. That’s the likely price tag for the Lions to extend Larry Warford early.
So, Should the Lions Extend Larry Warford Early?
I’m going to be really blunt right here. No. The market is too high for players that aren’t really very good at this position to risk it, that’s a lot of money for a player with an uncertain future. The injuries are a strike against him, the inconsistent performance is a strike against him, the fact that he is absolutely not scheme versatile is the third strike against him. At his size, with his lack of athleticism, he is a powerful blocker with no place in half of the schemes in the league. In truth we have no idea who the Lions’ Offensive Coordinator will be in 2017 right now, as much as every Lions fan is hoping that it will be Jim Bob Cooter (in his name we trust) for years to come. Should the Lions extend Larry Warford early? He’s a player with a 50% chance to be all but useless in 365 days to the new coaching staff if this year goes poorly. That is the kind of player that you hold off on signing until that issue is decided. Ansah is scheme-proof, go get the quarterback Ziggy. Slay is scheme-proof, he has shown he can play man or zone very well. Warford is just not like them. Looking at next year’s free agent list at guard, I would put him eighth, and every one of the players I would rank above him today will be under 30 years old next off-season. Next year’s guard market will be a buyer’s market, whereas this year’s is a seller’ market. Some of those players will get more than Sweezy did this year, but most will not. If Warford returns to form, and avoids injuries, he probably fits among those that do get more, but frankly guards are not difficult to replace, and I don’t have faith in him to do that.
So get out your haterade, boys, this one’s a scorcher. I fully expect to get an eyeful about this article, but if you are going to argue that the Lions should give $6 million a year to a player that hasn’t had a good season in two years, and only had one good year in his career, my homer/fanboy alarm is going to be ringing fiercely. That’s the market this off-season for a guard who isn’t even as good as Warford. That’s the Warford Hometown discount contract this year. And that makes absolutely no long term sense, unless Warford returns to rookie form. That is the only way a deal for Warford signed this year ends up being a good deal for the team: if Warford becomes a top ten guard in the league this season. That’s a bad bet for a team with a lot of decisions to make in the next couple seasons.