The Detroit Lions are in the process of deciding what to do ahead of the offseason, and with one cut already under their belt, could more be on the way?
With around $23 million to spend, the Lions already have some wiggle room under the cap, but more could help the team be even more aggressive in filling out their needs ahead of the NFL draft.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai represents the next biggest potential shoe to drop for the Lions. Already, many have made the case that he should be the next release for the team for cap purposes, but rarely does the analysis include a thought about what the team could do next up front if he leaves.
In a piece at The 33rd Team, analyst Ari Meirov admitted that Vaitai likely makes sense as the team’s next cut relative to his contract as well as injuries. If the team does move on, Meirov points out that
“Injuries have been a concern for Vaitai since he joined Detroit under the previous regime. He missed the entire season this past year due to a back injury and Detroit could look to find his replacement in free agency or in the draft,” Meirov wrote of Vaitai.
The Lions have a strong offensive line already, but an addition in free agency or the draft up front might catch many by surprise given the depth the team has built in the trenches over the last few years.
Detroit’s needs right now are on the defensive side of the ball, so an early pick at guard might shock some folks. The same would be true if the team decided to sign someone in free agency.
Either of those options could be ones to remember should the Lions decide upon a cut in the days ahead.
Lions Options to Replace Halapoulivaati Vaitai
If the team does decide to let Vaitai go as has been rumored recently, there are many outcomes that make sense for the team as it relates to replacing him.
The first for Detroit would be going in-house, and perhaps allowing a player like guard/center Evan Brown or guard Logan Stenberg to take over the starting role on a full-time basis. Both players played in 2022 to help the Lions account for the loss of Vaitai,
Brown has played in 41 games in his career with 24 starts, so he has NFL experience to rely on. Brown was undrafred out of SMU in 2018, but ended up cracking the New York Giants roster in 2018 before being waived in 2019. He would go on to spend parts of 2020 with the Cleveland Browns before coming to Detroit.
Stenberg, he was a fourth-round pick of Detroit in 2020, and a player who was a first-team All-ACC selection for his work in 2019 as well as a second-team All-American at guard. In the NFL, Stenberg has played in 25 games with four starts, and showed himself as a potential replacement late in 2022.
If the team looks toward the draft, names like Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrance or North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch could be options early on. In free agency, Washington’s Trai Turner, Denver’s Dalton Risner or Arizona’s Cody Ford could all fit the profile for the team.
Should the team move on, there will be many options as it relates to a Vaitai replacement waiting in the wings.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s Career Stats & Highlights
If there is a player that could make the most sense to be sliced from the roster this offseason, it’s Vaitai. That’s due mostly to the contract he signed in 2020 and the lack of return on investment the team has received.
Vaitai’s deal pays him a total of $45 million dollars for five years, and doesn’t expire until after 2024. Early on, Detroit didn’t get a huge return on investment from Vaitai thanks to the fact he was injured and played just 10 games in the 2020 season.
That number increased to 15 in 2021 amid a major bounce back season for the guard. 2022, however, saw Vaitai have another back injury which cost him the season. Vaitai is now 30 years old, and was a top signing of Detroit’s former regime led by Bob Quinn. To that end, he could be seen as a final purge candidate by Brad Holmes.
Vaitai helped the Eagles win Super Bowl 52 after being a fifth-round pick in 2016, and is a veteran piece with position versatility up front. A big selling point when he came to Detroit was his ability to play either tackle spot or guard. He’s played mostly at guard, but has flashed at tackle.
The Lions will have to decide if Vaitai’s veteran savvy and versatility is enough to keep him, or if they simply want to move on given health problems.