The Lions have used premium resources – draft picks and free-agent contracts – to rebuild the offensive line the last two years. They’ve done it in two separate waves – three draft picks in 2016, then backing that up by signing two quality free agents this year.
On multiple fronts – opportunity, production and finances – it has been a good time for an offensive lineman to land in Detroit.
Wagner feels good about the process that made him a Lion after four seasons with the Baltimore Ravens. It was a continuation of a commitment that general manager Bob Quinn began with the draft in 2016. He made a double dip early in the free-agent market this year by signing Wagner to start at right tackle and
“Teams see the success of running the ball and protecting the quarterback,” Wagner said in a media scrum Tuesday. “That has a lot to do with the O-line. Other positions work with that, too. It’s good to see people appreciating offensive lines.”
At 26 and going into his fifth NFL season, Wagner is one of the elder statesmen among the unit’s projected starters. Lang, who came to the Lions after eight seasons with the Green Bay Packers, is the unit’s oldest hand at 29.
“I’m used to being the younger guy,” Wagner said. “They brought in T.J. as well. He’s a little older. That makes me feel a little bit better, not being the old guy.”
Last year’s three draft picks handled themselves well.
Before Quinn’s arrival as GM last year, starting center
Quinn said after signing Wagner and Lang that it was important to add experienced players to the offensive line, especially with the loss of starters Larry Warford and Riley Reiff to free agency.
“I think I mentioned at the Combine, you can’t have all rookies and second-year offensive linemen,” Quinn said then. “You need some guys in there that kind of lead those guys and show them how to do that.”
Wagner had a positive impression of his new Lions teammates from watching tape last year, and it has been reinforced with the work ethic they’ve displayed in the offseason workout program.
“We watched game tape the last few years,” Wagner said. “I was always impressed with the Lions’ offensive line. They’re all younger guys, but they go to work and practice like they’re veterans. I’m very impressed with that.”
In switching teams, from the Ravens to the Lions, Wagner is trading one Pro Bowl partner for another. In Baltimore, it was left guard Marshall Yanda, who’s made the Pro Bowl the last six seasons and was All Pro twice. Lang made his first Pro Bowl last season.
“Playing next to Marshall was an amazing experience,” Wagner said. “I’m coming into a situation where I have T.J. next to me. I’m going from Pro Bowl guard to Pro Bowl guard. I’m very thankful for that.”
Even though Lang is unable to take part in workouts while he recovers from offseason surgery to repair a hip injury, Wagner said they’re able to build a connection and personal chemistry in meetings.
“We have lot of time in the meeting room,” Wagner said. “We sit next to each other. We’re talking through plays. We’re both learning this offense together.”
Wagner can share Lang’s experience of rehabilitating an injury to start a season in good health. After signing with the Lions, Lang said the surgery would let him go into a season healthy after dealing with the hip injury in recent seasons.
Wagner played and started all 16 games for the Ravens in 2015, but he had to play through a painful foot injury to remain on the field. He feels fully recovered this offseason.
“It feels good,” he said. “It was a tough injury to go through. It took a long time. I feel very good – as good as I’ve ever felt in the NFL. I’m excited to go into a season clean.”