Depth on the offensive line is becoming more of a need than a luxury in the NFL. Naturally, the price tag for reliable backups is going up.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has started 20 games over the past four seasons in Philadelphia, including a memorable stint at left tackle during the Super Bowl run. The 26-year-old has proven to be a reliable and versatile force on the offensive line, a guy able to seamlessly transition between both tackle and guard.
But Vaitai will be a free agent once the calendar turns to March 18 and he’s about to get paid. There is likely to be a long line of suitors for him. Vaitai will be a starter somewhere in 2020, not in Philadelphia.
According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, “Big V” is expected to do “very well” in free agency and could earn between $8 and $12 million per year. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise since quality offensive linemen are hard to find, especially starting-caliber tackles. The highest-paid left tackle in football (Taylor Lewan) makes $16 million per season while the highest-paid right tackle (Lane Johnson) averages $18 million. Vaitai is ready to cash in.
The fifth-round pick in the 2016 draft has been relatively quiet about his future. When asked about his contract situation last December, he brushed it off.
“Right now I’m not worried about that,” Vaitai told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Right now I’m just focused on this week. It’s the most important game. All that stuff can take care of itself in the offseason. I can just block it out.”
Vaitai Makes Elite List of Top 100 Free Agents
The Eagles have known for a long time that Halapoulivaati Vaitai would be a hot commodity on the free-agent market. The franchise could have traded him at last year’s deadline but they had too many injuries on the offensive line. Guys like Jason Peters and Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson were out for extended periods. They couldn’t risk not having the depth.
The flip side of that is now “Big V” will leave via free agency, with no compensation coming back to the Eagles. Philadelphia will also most likely be losing Jason Peters — and Jason Kelce is still a huge question mark — so line depth could be an issue in 2020. Vaitai was ranked as the 90th-best free agent, per Pro Football Talk.
Where might Vaitai end up? Well, the Cleveland Browns make the most sense as they reportedly inquired about trading for him last year. They never replaced future Hall-of-Fame left tackle Joe Thomas who retired in 2018.
Don’t count out the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets from making a play for him. The Bills have a ton of money ($82.2 million) and the Jets have inside knowledge about Vaitai from former scouting guru Joe Douglas who now serves as Jets GM. One other dark horse candidate: the New England Patriots. They need to woo Tom Brady back and nothing says “I love you” better than a reliable tackle.
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