Lions Made Effort To Retain G Jonah Jackson

The Lions have two upper-crust contracts allocated to offensive linemen, having extended Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow. They also have Penei Sewell on track to eventually score a monster right tackle deal. Exiting the season, these contractual components — along with plans for Jared Goff and Amon-Ra St. Brown — had made it more likely than not Jonah Jackson would need to find his second contract elsewhere.

That ended up happening, with the four-year guard starter landing a three-year, $51MM deal from the Rams. Jackson’s Rams deal came on a day in which two teams — the Rams and Panthers — each finalized plans to add two high-priced guards. Jackson joins Kevin Dotson as well-paid Rams guards; the latter signed a three-year, $48MM contract. While the Rams’ guard plan also involved re-signing a starter to keep him out of free agency, the Lions crafted a similar approach.

Although not much came out about a Lions effort to re-sign Jackson, the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers notes the team had hopes of reaching a deal that would keep him off the market. A belief in the building existed that Jackson would be retained even in the days before free agency, but Rogers adds the Lions then learned Jackson’s price tag would come in higher than they anticipated.

Other teams undoubtedly encountered similar issues, with the salary cap rising by more than $30MM from its 2023 place. This year’s guard class featured a number of candidates to score big contracts, and the cap spike effectively ensured that group would fare well. Dotson re-signing with the Rams before the market opened also helped players like Jackson, who received the second-highest guard payment among this year’s UFAs — behind only the Panthers’ five-year, $100MM Robert Hunt deal.

Jackson, 27, had expressed a fondness for Detroit and hoped extension talks would lead to his second contract coming with the Lions. But little emerged indicating the sides were serious about an extension entering last season. By late February, the parties were not close on terms. Jackson’s eventual defection led the Lions to add Kevin Zeitler in free agency. The 12-year veteran will team with Graham Glasgow, who re-signed (on a three-year, $20MM deal that includes $8MM fully guaranteed) just before the legal tampering period began.

Zeitler joined the Lions on a one-year, $6MM accord. His play in a midseason Ravens rout of the Lions impressed the NFC North champions, and Rogers adds the team made contact with Zeitler early in free agency. A deal took nearly a week to finalize, but Zeitler — a former Bengals first-round pick who later started for the Browns, Giants and Ravens — is now tied to a fifth team.

You never know when guys get to that age how long they’re going to last,” Holmes said, calling the Zeitler-Glasgow combination Plan A going into free agency. “So, when it got to the end of the season, and really started diving into those targets, and looked at him again, I was like, ‘Wow, no. He sustained that for the whole season.’ He’s a guy that, he just fits like a glove for what we’re about.”

It cost the Lions less per year to sign both Glasgow and Zeitler, who received a combined $13.5MM. The Rams gave Jackson $25.5MM fully guaranteed. Jackson’s age helped secure that deal, with Glasgow and Zeitler respectively set for their age-32 and age-34 seasons. Glasgow, who had re-signed with the Lions in 2023, may well have needed to leave Detroit once again had Jackson agreed to terms. The Ravens had started talks on a second Zeitler contract but will move on; Zeitler joins guard John Simpson and right tackle Morgan Moses as starting O-linemen lost this offseason.

The Lions are expected to trot out three 30-something O-line starters this coming season, but Zeitler has been one of the NFL’s steadiest guards over the past several seasons. Pro Football Focus rated the former first-round pick as a top-15 guard in each of his three Ravens seasons. The advanced metrics site did not place Jackson in the top 20 during his four-year Detroit stay.

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