He watched one of his best friends in life retire after 12 NFL seasons and another get cut days after the Super Bowl.

But when Dominic Raiola arrived at the crossroads of his long, underappreciated career this off-season, he chose a third path, one that left him lighter in the wallet but he insists not the least bit bitter.

Raiola agreed to a sizeable pay cut to stay with the Lions in February, reducing his base salary from just more than $4 million to $1 million with no guarantee of future employment.

A few months shy of his 35th birthday, Raiola said he understands the business of the move and might have done the same thing himself.

“It’s just coming to terms with me getting older,” Raiola said. “The salary cap is what it was, so it really wasn’t unrealistic for anybody to say you’ve got to take a pay cut. That’s ridiculous for me at this age to be making that. So it was an easy decision.”

Easy because, entering his 13th year with the Lions, Raiola said he couldn’t imagine uprooting his life and playing for another team when he has so much unfinished business in Detroit.

A second-round pick in 2001, Raiola has made just one playoff appearance in his first 12 years while playing on teams with a combined 53-139 record.

“My heart wasn’t anywhere else,” Raiola said. “I remember (Matthew) Stafford sent me a text and was like, you always told me it’s never about the money and it kind of hit me, ‘cause I did, I always said that. If you want to play this game, you got to have a passion for it. You’ve got to want to play it, and if you start playing it for money your years become shorter and shorter and shorter.

“So that’s where I am now. You can say I’m full of (expletive), but that’s just the way it is. It really isn’t. I want to be here wholeheartedly, I still want to play this game, I love this game and earn my keep, earn my position.”

The Lions have made a concerted effort to get younger on their offensive line this off-season, handing Jeff Backus’ left-tackle job to second-year pro Riley Reiff and throwing the right-tackle job open to untested veterans Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard.

Larry Warford, a third-round pick this year, could start at right guard, and left guard Rob Sims will play most of this season at age 29.

Raiola, though, still appears entrenched at center, with Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin among his possible backups.

“I don’t think any of (the contract stuff) has anything to do with him doing his job,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “That doesn’t change no matter what your contract situation is, no matter how much money you make. Dom’s always a guy that approached the game the way.”