At some point in a long phone conversation with Jake Long, the former Michigan offensive lineman and No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft, Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan just wanted an answer. Stay or go?
Long told Lewan he couldn’t make that decision for him. And so Lewan leaned on the past. What did you do, Lewan asked. Long had stayed, and over the course of 30 to 45 minutes, he told Lewan all the reasons why.
And so after weeks of perceived hints, Lewan declared Wednesday in a surprising announcement that he will stay at Michigan for his fifth-year senior season, forgoing a shot at the 2013 NFL Draft. Heeding the custom set by linemen like Long, and even the mantra of late Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, Lewan chose Michigan tradition over NFL riches.
“Offensive lineman here, they stay,” said Michigan coach Brady Hoke at a press conference. “And there’s been a tradition of that.”
He continued, referencing Long and former linemen Jon Jansen and Steve Hutchinson: “Jake and Jansen, and you could go back through it. Hutch and all those guys.”
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had listed Lewan as the No. 15 player overall on his most recent Big Board Wednesday. Lewan was considered by most to be the second-best offensive tackle on the board, behind Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel.
Scouts Inc. ranked Lewan No. 13 on in its top-32 players in the 2013 draft, and Lewan said the NFL Draft Advisory Board rated him as a high first-round pick. Were he taken as the 13th pick, he could’ve expected a similar contract to last year’s 13th pick, Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd.
Floyd signed with the Arizona Cardinals for just less than $10 million guaranteed over four years, with a team option for a fifth year. Players selected in the top 10 last year earned four year deals worth an average just less than $16.5 million (two players, selected Nos. 4 and 5 overall, did not report their contracts).
Lewan said he plans to take out an insurance policy, which could mitigate the financial sting if he suffers an injury before the 2014 NFL Draft. He has not yet signed the paperwork, and even an insurance policy would not offset any financial losses he might incur if his draft stock were to plummet.
Still, Lewan said, “it really was a no brainer at the end.”
Lewan’s decision came after a phone call to the Long and an eye toward the future. He has started in 28 consecutive games at left tackle for the Wolverines, and his departure would have further decimated an already underachieving offensive line.
With Lewan back, Michigan will return both starting tackles — right tackle Michael Schofield will be a fifth-year senior for 2013 season — but the Wolverines will graduate the entire interior of the line as well as their top blocking tight end, Mike Kwiatkowski.
Michigan will likely field a young line on the inside. Though much can change, 2013 redshirt freshman Kyle Kalis is the best bet to start at guard, and the center position should be redshirt sophomore Jack Miller’s to lose.
“Kyle Kalis and (freshmen linemen) Ben Braden and Erik Magnusen, I want to be a part of their lives for one more year and help them to develop into something where they can possibly be in my position in a couple years,” Lewan said.
The other guard position is more open, with redshirt freshman Blake Bars and redshirt sophomore Chris Bryant as likely options. Redshirt junior guard Joey Burzynski is the only upperclassman with a strong shot to win the job, and he is the only option who has seen game action — he played in seven games as a backup in 2012 and appeared in four more in 2011.
Lewan’s return means added continuity, and it is a blessing for quarterback Devin Gardner, who will rely on Lewan to protect his blind side. Throughout the process, though, Lewan kept his teammates in the dark. He waited until just 20 minutes before his announcement, at a team meeting, to break the news.
The room erupted in cheers.
Still, when asked if he was surprised by Lewan’s decision, Hoke responded with a simple “no.”
To that, Lewan turned toward his father, who attended the press conference, and whispered, “Oh my god, he’s lying,” with a laugh.
Most in Ann Arbor expected Lewan to declare for the draft.
“I think my Dad predicted me to leave too,” Lewan said.
At first, Lewan consulted with others and just wanted an answer. It is a big decision, he explained, for a 21-year old. Ultimately, he decided that the chance for one more year at Michigan, one more shot at a Big Ten Championship, was worth it.
“If you play at the University of Michigan, whether it’s basketball, hockey, football, there’s a tradition here and there’s something that you want to be a part of,” Lewan said. “And if I do what I need to do, I’ll be able to play in the NFL for however long, but you only get one more year of college.”