By: Will Burchfield
Ricky Wagner, the most coveted right tackle on the free agent market, signed with the Lions for a couple of reasons.
For one, it felt right.
I grew up here in the Midwest,” said Wagner, a native of Wisconsin, “and just the way Detroit is blue collar kind of connects to me.”
But more significantly, he saw the opportunity for success.
“The team,” Wagner said. “It’s a really exciting time to be a Lion.”
The 27-year-old, formerly of the Ravens, confirmed on Friday that his deal with the Lions is for five years. Per Jason La Canfora, Wagner will make $9.5 million per season. Excluding Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson, who is expected to move to left tackle in the near future, Wagner is now the highest-paid player at his position.
“Personally, that’s my goal, to be all about the money. That’s something that my agent worked hard for in this free agency period,” Wagner said. “I’m very thankful that I have this opportunity to earn that amount of money, but I’m really just focusing on football. I just want to start practicing and leave all this behind.”
Wagner acknowledged that right tackles are becoming as important as left tackles due to the development of pass rushers across the league.
“The NFL is evolving to more of a passing league and D-ends are becoming faster and stronger and they’re coming off both edges,” Wagner said. “So I think they’re both equally important positions.”
Asked how it feels to see the corresponding pay gap narrow, Wagner laughed and said, “I’m not complaining.”
Along with all-rookie left tackle Taylor Decker, Wagner will help anchor the Lions’ offensive line. He feels his pass-blocking skills have progressed significantly since his time in college.
“Coming out of Wisconsin, we really didn’t pass the ball too much, we relied on our running backs. So my game has evolved from run blocking to mostly pass blocking and I think I’ve greatly improved upon that throughout my NFL career,” he said.
The one question mark on Wagner’s NFL resume is a down year in 2015. But he feels it was a blip on the radar.
“I was coming off a pretty serious foot injury that year, was difficult to get back in the swing of things. I think I recovered well towards the end of that season, but as of last year I think I’m back on the right track playing solid football,” said Wagner.
Though Wagner has hit the jackpot, he won’t be one to sit back and count his earnings. In fact, he’s looking forward to doing just the opposite.
“I’m a real quiet, laid-back kind of guy and I’ve always had to work for everything. I was never given anything. I walked on at Wisconsin, was drafted in the last pick of the fifth round (in 2013), so I’ve had to prove myself my entire life and that doesn’t stop here.
“Now I have to prove to everybody that I (am worth) this contract, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to make that happen.”