Could The Detroit Lions Let Riley Reiff Walk This Offseason?
Riley Reiff has been a divisive figure among the Lions fan base. He spent his first season playing as a goalline tight end, before taking the left tackle spot when Jeff Backus retired. This season he was replaced on the left side by rookie Taylor Decker, who played better in the second half of the year than Reiff ever has. The play of the Lions newly shifted right tackle started strong but faded toward the end of the season, and he was unable to suit up for the postseason. Cornelius Lucas did a fine job as his replacement, though history shows us that Lucas is unlikely to be a long term replacement. Riley Reiff will continue to be a divisive figure among the fanbase for the entire 2017 season.
Riley Reiff’s Performance
Reiff did his job for the most part in 2016. He was a solid teammate after the team drafted his replacement, and worked hard to adjust to his new role. Reiff has always had a blue collar image among Lions fans. He is viewed as a workman who gets by on grit and determination more than god gifted athletic traits. He is a player that Lions fans can identify with, a man of the people. 2016 was the worst season Riley Reiff has had as a starter for the Detroit Lions. It was also a contract year. That usually motivates a player to perform at levels higher than usual, in search of a big pay day. Reiff has never been that sort of player. He gives his team what he has one every down, rather than saving effort for big moments.
Riley Reiff’s Contract
A projection of Reiff’s contract is a bit more complicated than most. It may be the downturn in play through his contract year that leads to his price rising above his value to the Lions. In Detroit, Reiff is the right tackle with Taylor Decker having taken over the left side. Reiff did not fit more naturally on the right side as many speculated he would. In fact his play took a down turn as the players he was up against were more powerful than fast. Riley Reiff’s poor season by his standards tells NFL front offices that he is a left tackle, and not a right tackle by nature.
There are ten teams likely to be looking for an upgrade at the left tackle spot. Many of those teams will have more cap space than the Lions this offseason. The only legitimate starting left tackles in the free agent market are Matt Kalil (an injury prone, and erratic performer), Andrew Whitworth (who is 35 years old), and Riley Reiff. He may just be the best left tackle option in free agency. The draft does not provide relief to any of those teams in the short term. This is regarded as a weak draft at the offensive tackle position. Riley Reiff could find himself in the right place, at the right time to cash in huge. Keliche Osimele’s contract last season was a five year, $58.5M deal. Osimele was thought to possibly be a potential left tackle. Reiff has years of solid experience at the position, and it would not surprise me to see him find a similar deal. The free agent market always overpays a rare commodity like a left tackle.
So Should The Lions Keep Riley Reiff?
No. While the left tackle market is virtually bare, the right tackle market has plenty of options for the Lions this offseason. Reiff is the right tackle for as long as he is in Detroit. A decent right tackle is worth about $6 million in free agency. Reiff is likely to get offers greatly exceeding that number, possibly nearly doubling it, from desperate teams. His agent will be aware of his client’s leverage; so the only hope to retain Reiff is that he does not want to test the market and will settle for significantly less to stay in Detroit. Reiff is not going to turn down an additional $10-20 million to stay a Lion, so the team would have to overpay. Reiff’s value to another team will greatly exceed his value to the Lions. As a result of that inevitability I do not think the Lions will, or should retain him.