PHOENIX – All it took was one meeting for Detroit Lions coach Jim Caldwell to see why T.J. Lang is not only a Pro Bowl right guard, but also became integral in the fabric of the Green Bay Packers locker room.
“He’s just as advertised,” Caldwell said of his first impressions after meeting with Lang during a free-agent visit.
The Lions signed Lang to a three-year, $28.5 million contract, a major investment that including $19 million guaranteed. It showed what the Lions believe Lang brings: the chance to solidify their offensive line and build a wall around quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“He has all the tools that make you an outstanding player,” Caldwell said Wednesday morning at the NFL meetings. “He’s big, he’s strong, he’s physical, he’s smart. I think those are the things that make it difficult to handle. He’s a guy also who’s a very, very good technician.”
Lang, a former fourth-round pick in Green Bay, became the leader of the Packers' offensive line in his eighth season.
His toughness was routinely on display, never more so than when he returned from a broken foot after missing just three games last season. Doctors originally expected the mid-November injury could cost Lang the rest of his season.
Caldwell said he also values the intangibles Lang brings to his locker room.
“It’s huge,” Caldwell said. “The leadership aspect of it is without question a huge factor that he’ll bring, but also the winning ways as well. He’s been in some big games, knows what it’s all about, understands the preparation that it takes to play – and play well – in this league, and I think that will help.”
The Packers still are figuring out how to fill their void at right guard. All signs point to next month’s draft being the most likely solution. But it seems unlikely anyone will fill the void Lang left.
“When you get into these business situations,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said, “it’s going to go one way or another. My perspective is that T.J. has an excellent financial situation for him and his family, and we’ll miss T.J. He’s one of those players that personally for me will be one of my favorites. I had the opportunity to coach him and watch him grow in all aspects of his life, professionally and personally.
“So this is our league. This is the way it goes. He’s got an opportunity to play back home, so that’s special. I know that’s important to him. But, yes, I’ll always look at T.J. as a Green Bay Packer. I definitely enjoyed our time together.”
There’s extra benefit in a team signing a Pro Bowl player away from a divisional rival. The Packers will now play against Lang twice each season.
Caldwell said the chance to subtract from the Packers didn’t serve as motivation in the Lions’ interest.
“I don’t think anybody looks at it that way,” Caldwell said, “because we’re all still working with the same amount of money. There’s a lot of great players throughout the league. They’re going to continue to be a really good team, and it’s not a news flash.”