Aging Defender Leads Top 5 Potential Lions Cut Candidates Before 2023

Michael Brockers

Getty Michael Brockers during a 2022 celebration in Miami.

The Detroit Lions have some big decisions to make ahead of free agency, and with a decent amount of cap space already at a reported $14,025,618, more could be added before the offseason.

After a solid 9-8 season, the decision to cut players and turn over the roster isn’t going to be taken lightly. The Lions have a team that has jelled in a big way, and players that get along within a tight locker room.

In spite of that, some tough cut decisions will likely come down the pipe, and the moves will impact players that form the depth of the roster both young and old alike.

What players could be jettisoned at this point in time? Here’s a look at some of the top names for this year.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Guard

If there’s one player that could make the most sense to be sliced from the roster above many others this offseason, it’s guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

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 2020.

That number increased to 15 in 2021 amid a bounce back season for the guard. 2022, however, saw Vaitai regress and 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 a final purge 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 his veteran savvy and versatility is enough to keep him around, or if they simply want to cut bait and move on given his health problems. Vaitai comes with a $12,448,194 cap hit this year, and cutting him comes with a $2,948,194 dead cap penalty. Arguably, he has the most bloated contract on the Lions.

Charles Harris, Edge

A big goal for the Lions is getting more dangerous up front, and Harris was already one of the team’s most dangerous players in terms of sacks. An injury cost him time this year, though, and he may have lost his job as a result.

Harris was a former first-round pick out of Missouri in 2017, and while he might not have lived up to the grade with the Dolphins, he did in Detroit. Harris had just 6.5 career sacks before joining the Lions, and three of those came when he was playing with the Falcons during the 2020 season. Harris also had put up 79 tackles, 4 passes defended and 1 fumble recovery in his career before joining the Lions.

Harris managed to offer the Lions some help off the edge given the major need Detroit has at the spot. The Lions re-made their defense this past offseason, and in previous years the team did not show an ability to get after the quarterback. Harris helped that disappear himself with 7.5 sacks for the team during the 2021 season.

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With names such as Aidan Hutchinson and James Houston in the fold, and perhaps another young player, Harris could find himself on the chopping block. During the 2022 season, he only posted one sack and 14 tackles in six games, and comes with a $7,988,333 cap hit for 2022. Releasing Harris would cost the Lions $3,976,668 in dead money.

Michael Brockers, Defensive Tackle

Like Vaitai, if there is a second player that could be heading toward a release, it’s Michael Brockers. At 32 years old, he is advancing in age and his play seems to have declined rapidly the last two years statistically.

Brockers has put up 451 total tackles, 29 sacks, 10 passes defended and two forced fumbles in his career in. He’s been to the Super Bowl and is a veteran leader the team has been able to count on when he has played in the league, and did have some quality plays.

VideoVideo related to aging defender leads top 5 potential lions cut candidates before 20232023-02-07T10:37:55-05:00

When playing for the Lions, the team saw Brockers bring some of his patented pocket pressure as well as his leadership to the team. During the 2021-22 season, he put up 52 tackles and 1 sack for the team playing 16 games. Those numbers cratered in 2022, and he played in just six games with five starts, putting up just four tackles and one pass defended.

The Lions could look to get younger at defensive tackle, and that figures to put Brockers on the outside looking in this offseason. His salary for 2023 stands at $13,975,000 and releasing him would come with a $3,975,000 dead cap hit.

Quintez Cephus, Wide Receiver

Like many of the others on this list, Quintez Cephus finds himself here as a result of injuries and not necessarily production.

After showing some positives early in 2021 before going down with a collarbone ailment midseason, Cephus won a roster battle and stuck with the Lions. Unfortunately, he had a leg injury early in training camp and was never able to return to show his stuff.

In college, Cephus put up a solid 1,496 yards and nine touchdowns in a run-heavy Wisconsin offense. He’s a player that has long had some potential which is obvious given the numbers he put up and his work ethic and body type. So far in the NFL, Cephus has collected 568 yards and four touchdowns on 37 career receptions without much run. He’s capable of the big catch as he has shown before.

VideoVideo related to aging defender leads top 5 potential lions cut candidates before 20232023-02-07T10:37:55-05:00

Unfortunately, as depth has grown at wideout, the Lions might not have patience with Cephus anymore. He wouldn’t save much given he costs just $1,086,072 against the cap with a small $76,072 cap hit if released, but the team could be prepared to move on at the position.

Logan Stenberg, Guard

After a few bleak seasons along the offensive front, the team has built up depth along the line now, and may have found their rotation for the present and future.

Logan Stenberg may not be a long-term part of that rotation after playing in 16 games but only starting four of them. How ready are the Lions to push Stenberg into a starting slot, or is Evan Brown a player they like at guard?

Stenberg was a fourth-round pick of the team, 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 held his own on the field this year. A lot of what the team decides to do with him may be determined by what happens with Vaitai.

This year, Stenberg will cost Detroit $1,195,410 in cap space, and could cost $185,410 in dead cap if cut. It’s not a huge savings, but if the Lions elected to sign another free agent, draft someone else or simply start somebody else, it could add modestly to their cap total.

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