Center is one of the most important yet underappreciated positions on an NFL field. These offensive linemen play the only position in the sport guaranteed to touch the ball on every offensive down. The Detroit Lions just solidified this critical position by making their Pro Bowl center, Frank Ragnow, the highest-paid center in the game.
Splashing cash on a player at an unheralded, gritty position is very much in line with new Lions head coach Dan Campbell’s football philosophy. He wants hardnosed players with chips on their shoulder who will, as he famously said, “bite off a kneecap off” after getting knocked down.
Frank Ragnow is now the highest-paid center in the NFL
Teams rarely draft centers in the first round of the NFL draft, but that is just what the Lions did with the No. 20 pick of the 2018 draft. Ragnow, now going into his fourth season out of the University of Arkansas, has rewarded the Lions by starting 45 games for the team and making the Pro Bowl in 2020.
Sports Illustrated reports that the contract extension for Ragnow is for four years and will pay him $13.5 million per season. This contract unseats the Los Angeles Chargers’ Corey Linsley’s position as the highest-paid center. He currently makes around $12.5 million a year.
The 24-year-old Ragnow is the third-highest rated center in the NFL, according to PFF. He grades out only behind Linsley and Cleveland’s J.C. Tretter at the position. With this contract, the Lions wisely wrapped up a player who will be key to the growth of their offense. This unit ranked 20th in both points and yards in 2020.
The Detroit Lions new head coach wants tough players on his team
In January, the Lions hired their former tight end, Dan Campbell, as the team’s next head coach. This move was a bit of a surprising choice by the team which fired their previous coach, Matt Patricia, mid-season. Campbell’s name was not toward the top of most lists of hot head coaching candidates following the 2020 NFL season.
Campbell previously held the titles of assistant head coach and tight ends coach in New Orleans. He also served as the interim head coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2010 and was 5-7 in that role.
Campbell has been on the job for less than six months now but has already made headlines for his introductory press conference. The part that got the most attention was when Campbell said:
We’re gonna kick you in the teeth, and when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re gonna get up. And on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off.
This quote made Campbell’s team-building intentions clear, and he and the Lions’ front office set out to build a team that could live up to this speech.
The Lions are building the team Campbell envisions
Signing a center to a massive deal is just one way that Campbell is building a team that fights and scraps in the way he laid out in his opening remarks with the team. The Lions 2021 draft demonstrates their commitment to toughness in the trenches as well.
With their first pick, the Lions took the number one offensive lineman on the board, Penei Sewell from Oregon. They followed that selection with defensive tackles in both the second and third rounds.
Adding players who have Campbell’s brand of toughness didn’t stop when the draft ended either. The team signed Rakeem Boyd as an undrafted free agent after the draft concluded. Boyd, from the University of Arkansas, is best known for his appearances on the Netflix series Last Chance U. The show documented Boyd’s tenacious journey from failed Texas A&M player to NFL prospect.
With guys like Ragnow, Sewell, and Boyd playing under Campbell in 2021, it will be fun to watch the Lions try to kick, punch, and bite their way to the top of the NFC North.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference