MOBILE, Ala. >> The longest-tenured Lion has played his last game in Detroit.
The Detroit Lions have informed long-time center Dominic Raiola that they don’t plan on bringing him back for a 15th season next year.
Raiola, a St. Louis School graduate from Honolulu, has played all 14 of his NFL seasons with Detroit, starting 203 games. Agent Kenny Zuckerman says Raiola would like to keep playing, but he’ll have to do so elsewhere. He signed a one-year deal last offseason that kept him with the Lions for 2014.
Raiola, a second-round pick out of Nebraska in 2001, has been a staple of the team’s offensive line since his second season in Detroit.
He holds the franchise record with 203 career starts and started 16 of a possible 17 games for the Lions this fall, missing a Week 17 game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field when he was suspended for jumping on the leg of Chicago Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson.
Raiola did not respond to phone and text messages seeking comment Monday, but he said after the season he hoped to return for one final year in Detroit.
“I’m optimistic,” Raiola said after cleaning out his locker earlier this month. “I think I will be (back), but I’m not going to sit here and tell you I’m not. I still want to play, I still think I have a lot to offer and a lot to offer this locker room. If I could go one more go around, I’d be honored.”
The Lions, though, have been preparing for Raiola’s departure for more than a year now.
They spent a third-round pick on Travis Swanson in last year’s draft and are ready to turn what will be a different-looking offensive line over to Swanson next year.
Swanson played well in his only start at center – he also started four games at right guard – but injured his knee in the Lions’ playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys. He is expected to be ready for the start of off-season workouts.
The Lions threatened to cut Raiola in 2013, but the now-36-year-old center took less money to stay in Detroit and responded with one of the best seasons of his career.
He played last season on a one-year deal.
Lions general manager Martin Mayhew declined comment when asked after the season if Raiola’s suspension would factor into the team’s decision to bring him back.
Speaking of Raiola and left guard Rob Sims, another pending free agent, Mayhew said, “Both outstanding guys, Rob and Dom. I think the world of both of those guys. They’ve been big contributors for us over the past few years. As I said, we met (earlier this month) and we’re still making decisions about how to proceed.”
Sims was the only Lions offensive lineman to play every snap this season, but at 31 his future is unclear.
The Lions struggled to consistently generate points on offense this year, and many within the organization pointed a finger at the offensive line as a reason why.
Matthew Stafford took a career-high 45 sacks this year, and injuries and suspensions robbed the line of its consistency. The Lions started seven different groups up front this year, and could look to address the position in the draft.
“We had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup,” Mayhew said. “I think that affected us offensively. You saw we had more sacks this year, which was an issue. We didn’t run the ball quite as well this year. I’d like to get guys healthy and I assume that we’ll be healthy next year. But to lose Larry (Warford) a couple different times, to lose (LaAdrian) Waddle a couple different times, or multiple times during the season, lose Riley Reiff for a period of time, it makes it tough. So, I think the health of our offensive line impacted our offense some.”
Sims did not return a voicemail seeking comment on his future Monday, but like Raiola, he’s said he plans to play in 2015 and hopes it’s with the Lions.
Raiola, the emotional leader of the line, started 104 straight games for the Lions from 2002-08 before he missed four weeks with a broken right thumb. He started another 99 straight games, not including a 2011 wild-card loss to the New Orleans Saints, before his suspension last month.