Kevin Zeitler addition ensures Lions’ offensive line remains a strength

During his end-of-the-season news conference last month, Lions GM Brad Holmes was asked about the importance of maintaining Detroit’s offensive line, one of the best in the league. The Lions were set to have two starting guards hit the open market, and there were questions to answer.

“Extremely important, extremely important,” Holmes said. “Our offensive line, us being able to protect the quarterback and run the football like we do, that’s extremely important. … That’ll be an area that will not be overlooked. As good as it has been in the past, just those points that you’ve raised, it’s definitely going to be a point of emphasis still.”

Holmes was true to his word. After losing one starter in Jonah Jackson, the Lions quickly pivoted to keep the offensive line a strength, with plans to sign former Ravens guard Kevin Zeitler to a one-year deal, per reports on Monday.

How he fits: For the Lions, everything offensively starts with their offensive line. It’s one of the better units in the league, keeping Jared Goff upright and paving the way for arguably the NFL’s best backfield — Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery. However, the Lions were in need of a guard to replace Jackson, who signed a three-year, $51 million contract with the Los Angeles Rams in free agency. That was more than the Lions wanted to pay, so they were forced to let him go.

Even with the loss of Jackson, the Lions return four of five starters along their offensive line, including guard Graham Glasgow. The move to sign Zeitler gives the Lions an immediate plug-and-play starter at guard, in a year in which they hope to contend for a Super Bowl. It also keeps their options open in the draft, allowing them to stick to their draft board and go with the best player available.

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2024 impact: Zeitler is reportedly signing a one-year deal. He’s a very capable guard who could really thrive between Frank Ragnow at center and either of Detroit’s tackles, Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell. The Lions could look to draft an offensive lineman early in April’s draft, and signing Zeitler means they don’t have to rely on a rookie to play at a high level right away. It would make a ton of sense for Detroit to add a young talent to its offensive line now, and have that player sit for a year while letting Zeitler serve as a stopgap.

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History: Zeitler, No. 31 on The Athletic’s ranking of the top 150 free agents, was the No. 27 pick in the 2012 draft. He’s been a steady presence ever since, playing north of 750 snaps every year and earning high marks from Pro Football Focus. In 2023, Zeitler was named to his first Pro Bowl. His PFF pass-blocking grade of 82.5 ranked second among all guards. He allowed just 19 pressures, which was the fourth-fewest among guards with at least 500 pass-blocking snaps, and only two sacks. While he’s getting older (he turned 34 this month), Zeitler has been highly durable throughout his career and can still execute at a high level. He’s a good player, and the risk is low for the Lions considering the length of the deal.

Cap update: Zeitler’s contract details have not been announced, and new defensive tackle DJ Reader’s contract hasn’t been filed yet, either. However, before those moves, Over the Cap had the Lions at roughly $31 million in cap space. They have been smart with the cap and have even done well to rework the contracts of John Cominsky and Carlton Davis III to lower their 2024 cap hits. It’s a healthy situation compared to others around the league.

Outlook: Everything the Lions do this offseason is about getting over the hump, and this is another move that improves their 2024 outlook. While the loss of Jackson was expected, it still hurt without knowing what was ahead. The Lions needed to keep an elite offensive line elite, and a move like this allows them to maintain the standard set last year, while adding yet another veteran presence to the locker room. Zeitler is stepping into a really good situation, and the Lions are getting a quality guard in return. It makes sense on a number levels, as the Lions look to repeat as division winners and win a Super Bowl.

(Photo: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

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