Should The Detroit Lions Move On From Their Starting Right Guard?
The Lions were among the worst teams in the NFL in both pass protection and running the ball. Two of the linemen who played the vast majority of snaps in 2016 are unrestricted free agents in this offseason. On the surface it would seem like the common denominator in that set of equations is the offensive line. No decisions have been made regarding the future of Riley Rieff and Larry Warford, according to Bob Quinn at his year end press conference. Both are divisive figures among Lions fans with detractors and supporters that are vocal and determined.
Warford was hesitant to speak about the future at his year end press conference, saying that he just wanted to decompress and not think about football for a time before getting back to work in the offseason. He heaped praise on the two major reasons that the Lions might consider moving in another direction, stating that Graham Glasgow had stepped up when needed, and that the vast improvement of Joe Dahl made him excited to see what was coming in Dahl’s future. That decompression process may change his mindset, but when asked about the Lions organization, and the possibility of returning Warford’s exact words were “I think it’s a great organization, I love it here. It’s the only team I know so far. I love the guys here.”
Larry Warford’s Performance
Pro Football Focus regarded Warford well in 2016. Many Lions fans completely disregard that particular website, because it tends to say bad things about Lions players. I think it has said bad things about Lions players because the Lions have not been a consistent team, and PFF grading does not regard passengers, players who merely perform to an expected level, particularly well. The Lions have had a lot of passengers in the last few seasons, and Warford has been among them at times. Warford has played at a high level for the majority of his time in Detroit, he is not the problem on the Lions offensive line. His hard off-season work paid off with a steady performance at the guard position in 2016. Larry Warford is a better than average starting right guard in the NFL. His performance dictates that he is a player worth a roster spot.
Larry Warford’s Contract
Guards salaries used to be much lower than tackles. There is disparity between the positions, but when starting guards make it to free agency they get paid. Warford is unlikely to find a market matching last year’s highest paid free agent guard Keniche Osomele, as Osemele had recent experience at left tackle, which adds an incredible amount of value. He will however be among the top five guards available in free agency if the Lions were to allow him to get there. Warford is a player that teams will see as a potential upgrade in the middle of their lines, particularly in the running game of a power blocking system. He is likely to cash in to the same or higher level as R. J. Sweezy last off-season, netting a contract with a cap number in the area of 6.5 to 7 million dollars per season.
So Should the Lions sign Larry Warford?
Graham Glasgow looked good as a rookie when he was playing left guard. The Lions spent a first round draft pick on Laken Tomlinson in 2015, and when he played on the right side in Warford’s absence he looked servicable for the first time in his career. Rookie Joe Dahl challenged Tomlinson’s starting role down the stretch. There is an argument that two of those three players might be able to handle the guard spots. The most important word in that sentence is “might.” Larry Warford is a sure thing who has proven he can do what the Lions need a right guard to do. The Lions should lock Warford up for a long term contract before free agency opens. They hit on a draft pick with Warford, and good teams retain their good players when they are not absolutely sure they have a replacement on the roster.