Lions’ Warford remains grounded as open market beckons

Larry Warford will tell you he doesn’t want to think about it, but, more likely, he doesn’t want to talk about it. There’s only so much a player can say about their impending free agency.

Warford is set to hit the open market this offseason.  There’s no question he’ll have a starting job next year, it’s a matter of where. There’s no way you can keep thoughts of your future at bay. It weighs on you. In four months, he could be relocating to a new city to play for a new team, after spending his first four with Detroit.

“I’m not going to get too far into it,” Warford said. “That’s one thing I don’t ever want to get too caught up in, the business side of the NFL. That’s not for me. That’s not my cup of tea. All I want to do is play football and block 3-techniques.

Warford has wildly outperformed his rookie contract, a four-year pact that paid him a little more than $3 million. No one should be surprised if his annual salary is double that with his next deal. Top guards make between $6-10 million per season.

He’s had some minor durability issues, missing at least one game the past three years, but he’s started 57 of a possible 64. Otherwise, he’s been one of Detroit’s best linemen, particularly as a run blocker.

Not surprisingly, Warford is open to returning to Detroit. He’s enjoyed his time with the franchise where he’s been trusted to start since Week 1 of his rookie season. When asked about what the line needs to do to be better next season, he answers with “we” not “they.”

“This is obviously going to have a special place,” Warford said. “This is where I got drafted, started a lot of great relationships here, I think it’s a great organization. I love it here. This is the only team I’ve known so far, but I love the guys here.”

If Warford isn’t re-signed, the Lions have options. They could move former first-round pick Laken Tomlinson to the right side, where he played in college. They could always sign a cheap veteran or draft a replacement. There’s also Joe Dahl, the team’s fifth-rounder last year, who barely played as a rookie, but has impressed Warford on the practice field.

“Joe, he’s ready to play at any time,” Warford said. “I’ve seen him in practice, he’s one of the more improved guys I’ve seen.”

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Neil S. Schwartz

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