Scott Otto had just returned to his office Wednesday when he checked his phone to find he had a missed text message from Ricky Wagner.
“It’s Detroit,” read the text, and Otto knew exactly what his former star football player was talking about.
Wagner agreed to a free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions on Wednesday, making him the highest-paid pure right tackle in the NFL.
Players cannot officially sign contracts until the 2017 league year opens at 4 p.m. Thursday, but NFL Network reported Wagner’s deal will eclipse $9 million per season.
Lane Johnson of the Philadelphia Eagles signed an extension last year worth $11.2 million annually, but that was in anticipation of his eventual move to left tackle. Other top right tackles, such as Bryan Bulaga of the Green Bay Packers and Mitchell Schwartz of the Kansas City Chiefs, average less than $7 million annually on their recently signed deals.
The Lions, looking to both upgrade their running game and better protect quarterback Matthew Stafford, targeted Wagner as a replacement for Riley Reiff on their young but emerging offensive line.
Wagner, a three-year starter with the Baltimore Ravens who doesn’t turn 28 until October, was considered the top right tackle on the market, and the Wisconsin native found allure in returning to the Midwest and reuniting with Lions coach Jim Caldwell, his offensive coordinator his rookie season.
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“Detroit fits in so many ways,” said Otto, Wagner’s coach at Hale High in West Allis, Wis. “It is close to home. I think they’re obviously a very good up-and-coming team, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He loves Caldwell. I know that. I believe Caldwell was his O.C. at Baltimore his first year, and so he said he always got along with Coach Caldwell and said, he goes, ‘I have not met a nicer, better, human being than Coach Caldwell,’ so I know he’s really very fired up about that. But if you know Ricky, I still think in his mind this is all surreal. He’s just a kid from West Allis, Wis., that is kind of living his dream.”