AP Sports Writer
DETROIT (AP) — Rick Wagner is ready for a return to the Midwest.
The Detroit Lions signed the talented offensive tackle — one of four free-agent deals they announced Friday — and when Wagner took part in a conference call with reporters, he said he felt a connection with blue-collar Detroit. Wagner is from West Allis, Wisconsin, and he played college football at Wisconsin.
“I’m a real quiet, laid-back kind of guy. I’ve always had to work for everything. I was never given anything,” Wagner said. “I walked on at Wisconsin. I was drafted in the last pick of the fifth round, so I had to prove myself my entire life. That doesn’t stop here.”
The Lions also announced deals with defensive tackle Akeem Spence, defensive end Cornelius Washington and linebacker Paul Worrilow. The team did not announce terms of the contracts, although Wagner said his is for five years.
Wagner gives Detroit an experienced replacement after tackle Riley Reiff signed with Minnesota. Wagner is entering his fifth NFL season, and he started 14 games in 2016 for the Baltimore Ravens. He made 47 starts in four seasons for the Ravens.
The Lions have tried to build a powerful offensive line through the draft, with mixed results. They used first-round picks recently on Reiff (2012), guard Laken Tomlinson (2015) and tackle Taylor Decker (2016) — and the Lions also took guard Larry Warford (2013) and center Travis Swanson (2014) in the third round.
Warford agreed to join New Orleans via free agency, and Reiff’s departure means Wagner certainly fills a need. The Lions made the playoffs last season as a wild card. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was sacked 37 times, and Detroit has struggled to develop any consistent running game.
Spence started four games for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, and Washington started two for the Chicago Bears. Spence credited star defensive lineman Gerald McCoy with being something of a mentor for Tampa Bay.
“Gerald, he was a big help from the time I stepped into Tampa as a rookie. He brought all the young guys along,” Spence said. “Credit to him — he’s a great veteran, a great guy to be around.”
Worrilow was previously with the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons. He played in 12 games in the 2016 regular season, making one start. He’s started 44 games in his career, all for the Falcons.
“Last year was awesome. It was exciting,” Worrilow said. “I think the biggest thing about that team was the closeness of the groups, how each teammate was an extension of the other. That wasn’t something that was all of a sudden conjured up. We had to really work on that.”
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