Dominic Raiola was firmly on the Detroit Lions roster bubble last year. He was coming off a decent season, rated the number 13 center according to Pro Football Focus, but had a cap number that the Lions just couldn’t justify. Had it not been for Raiola agreeing to reduce his salary to lower the cap hit, he likely wouldn’t have been a member of the 2013 Lions.
After taking the pay cut to stay with the team through the last year of his contract, the common thinking was that Raiola would play out the year and that would be the last we saw of him in a Lions uniform.
Despite turning 35 a day after the Lions season finale, Raiola turned in one of the best seasons of his career. His overall rating of +18.6 from Pro Football Focus was the second-highest of all NFL centers. Perhaps most impressive is that Raiola put up that mark with solidly positive ratings in each category PFF grades: pass block, screen block, run block and penalties.
With no clear replacement on the roster, it was enough to earn a new one-year deal from the Lions. As we learned last year, we shouldn’t assume this one-year deal will signal the end of Dominica Raiola’s career. Playing two more years make for a 15-year career for Raiola, a milestone he has in mind:
“Not a lot of people can say they played 15 years, and that’s a realistic goal for me,” Raiola, 35, said in a phone interview. “And I say that very humbly and without getting too far ahead of myself.”
Raiola’s solid 2013 season and new one-year deal means the Lions suddenly have options. Center is no longer a hole that has to be addressed in the draft. If the right opportunity presents itself come May, fine, but the Lions have the luxury of waiting so they can address other needs.
Raiola has drawn the “undersized” label throughout his NFL career but has been able to make up for it with a high football IQ. The Lions would be wise to add their center of the future to the roster before Raiola departs to help transfer some of that expertise. However, that doesn’t have to happen this year if the Lions believe Raiola has another two years left in him.