As the Lions prepare to face a 49ers team flooded with high-end investments on its defensive line, they will do so with a suddenly banged-up offensive front.
Jonah Jackson has undergone surgery for the meniscus tear he sustained in the Lions’ divisional-round win over the Buccaneers, and Frank Ragnow will not head into the San Francisco matchup healthy. The veteran center plans to play, but NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport notes he sustained a sprained knee and a sprained ankle against the Bucs.
Ragnow’s matchups with the likes of Javon Hargrave, Arik Armstead and Javon Kinlaw will be a key factor as the Lions attempt to keep Jared Goff clean in their first NFC championship game since 1991. Jackson, however, may still have a chance to return this season. If the Lions pull the upset and advance to the first Super Bowl in team history, ESPN.com’s Jeremy Fowler indicates the team’s left guard could return for that game. Dan Campbell confirmed that possibility for Jackson, who is playing out his rookie contract.
The Lions have dealt with injuries up front this season, but the unit had been healthy for much of this wildly successful stretch run. Four of the Lions’ five original O-line starters this season have missed at least two games this season; Jackson has missed five. Only All-Pro right tackle Penei Sewell has lasted 19 games. Halapoulivaati Vaitai remains on IR, and it does not appear the right guard is coming back this season. Coming back after a three-year Denver stay, Graham Glasgow usurped Vaitai after starting the season as a backup.
Detroit will have four of its front five available against San Francisco, and were the team to come back and allow Jackson to return for a Super Bowl start, it would represent a nice conclusion to a spotty contract year. Jackson, who said last year he is seeking a Lions extension, has been a Lions starting guard since the team drafted him in the 2020 third round. The Bob Quinn regime drafted Jackson, and the Lions have Ragnow and LT Taylor Decker tied to big-ticket deals. Sewell will also be in line for one, joining Amon-Ra St. Brown in that regard.
A 2024 Goff extension is also likely on tap for the Lions, who have let the 2021 trade acquisition play on his Rams contract for three years. These factors will make it difficult for the Lions to retain Jackson, and we have not heard extension rumors since early September.