Fresh off signing cornerback Darius Slay to a contract extension, the Detroit Lions front office now pivots to other players in need of new deals. While offensive tackle Riley Reiff isn’t necessarily a pressing issue, the veteran is definitely near the front of the line for a new contract.
Detroit’s first-round pick in 2012, Reiff is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He earned a hair under $8M over his first four years and will pick up just over $8M in 2016 thanks to the Lions picking up the final-year option on that deal he signed as a fresh-faced rookie from Iowa.
After largely average play at left tackle for the first part of his career, Reiff now transitions to the right side. This appears to be a better fit for his skills, and the early returns are positive.
Right tackles typically don’t earn as much as left tackles. However, if Reiff can prove to be above-average on the right side he can likely eclipse whatever second contract he would get as a merely adequate left tackle.
That bar was set by Anthony Castonzo in Indianapolis at the beginning of the 2015 season. Castonzo, a first-round pick who performed marginally better than Reiff was in his first four seasons, signed a four-year, $43.8M deal on the cusp of his fifth season.
A look at the tackles who signed new deals in the 2016 offseason helps paint a more accurate picture of the market Reiff can expect.
- Russell Okung: Five years, $53M. If he’s healthy, the new Denver left tackle is superior to Reiff. Yet the 2010 first-rounder has struggled with injuries the last three years. The Lions kicked his free-agent tires but thought the former Seahawk stalwart was asking too much. Note that most of his deal is back-loaded with lucrative roster bonuses, a move designed to protect the Broncos in case he fizzles.
- Andre Smith: Minnesota poached the ex-Bengal for one year and $3.5M to play right tackle. Another first-rounder (2009), Smith’s career has been slightly inferior to Reiff; last year he ranked 18 slots lower in Pro Football Focus tackle grades. Smith opted to bet on himself on the short-term deal in hopes a strong season parlays into a more lucrative deal next spring.
- Eric Fisher: The No. 1 overall pick in 2013 is perhaps the most analogous to Reiff. After struggling on the left side, Fisher found new life at right tackle in Kansas City. He turned one decent season into four years and $48M to continue on the right side. $22M is guaranteed, a much lower figure than Castonzo’s $35M.
The market for tackles of Reiff’s general caliber is about $10-$12M per season on a long-term deal. Lions fans might cringe at the thought of paying Riley Reiff eight figures a year to be, well, Riley Reiff, but that’s the going rate.
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Let’s say Reiff moderately improves on the right side, a reasonable expectation. He can expect an offer from Lions GM Bob Quinn in the four-year, $46M range. Because right tackles don’t get as high of a percentage of guaranteed dollars or upfront cash, a $10M signing bonus and $25M guarantee looks about right.