Watching the NFL draft wasn’t much fun this year for Dominic Raiola.

Even though he has been the Lions’ starting center since 2002 and is coming off his best season, the team drafted center Travis Swanson out of Arkansas in the third round last week to be Raiola’s long-term replacement.

“Right when you see it, it’s hard. I mean, you’re human,” Raiola said Friday. “That’s been my position for 12 years. Imagine someone trying to hit on your girlfriend or your wife after dating her for 12 years.

“It’s hard, but in our business, it’s the reality of it.”

Raiola, 35, was honored Friday night at a charity dinner hosted by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund at Ford Field, earning the Ron Kramer Award as the team’s unsung hero in 2013. While he appreciated the award, Raiola still is bitter about the Lions finishing 7-9 after a 6-3 start last year, and he hopes the team can win consistently as he approaches the end of his career.

Since the Lions drafted Raiola in the second round in 2001, his only winning season and playoff appearance was in 2011.

“It’s not hard to accept awards like this because I’ve been playing a long time, but I want to make it count,” he said. “I feel like if we win these next two or three or however many more years I’m blessed to play, that’d make it worth it.”

After the Lions picked Swanson last Friday, offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn said the plan — even though he can play guard — is to groom him as Raiola’s replacement. Raiola knew as much when he watched the draft, and even though he’s excited to work with Swanson, he’s going to do whatever he can to keep the rookie on the bench for at least another couple of seasons.

“It’s going to motivate me at some level,” Raiola said. “I don’t know how much more motivation I need. I want to go out on my terms, and I think that’s really the only motivation I need.”

Raiola had plenty of motivation before his impressive 2013 season. After a 4-12 finish in 2012, the Lions wanted to add youth to the offensive line, and in order to stay in Detroit, Raiola had to take a pay cut.

“I just felt disrespected,” he said. “It wasn’t anything against the Lions and the organization. It was time for them to make a move, so I had to make a move. I had to step up my game.”

Before the 2013 season, Raiola added about 15 pounds, which he credits as a key reason for his improved season. The Lions had three new starters on the offensive line, but allowed just 23 sacks, second fewest in the NFL.

Raiola didn’t make any drastic changes to his offseason regimen this year, instead working to maintain his 310-pound playing weight. But with a new coaching staff led by the calm, cool and collected Jim Caldwell, he thinks the Lions should improve next season.