Free agency is officially underway and everyone in Michigan is curious about what Lions general manager Bob Quinn and company will do in a make-or-break year. So far, it’s been a tough go for the Lions. Outside of linebacker Jamie Collins Sr., the Lions three other signings leave fans with a lot of questions.
One of those three signings that has the most questions surrounding it is Big V. Now I’m not talking about this Big V.
I’m talking about Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The former Eagles offensive lineman seemingly came out of nowhere in this process. I know very little about him outside of the fact that his name is a mouthful and is a shoo-in to win the name bracket.
Vaitai played for the Eagles for four years and started 20 games, including the Eagles Super Bowl win in 2018. He also got buck naked for the cover of ESPN magazine’s Body Issue last September.
What we all wanted in the ESPN Body Issue: The Eagles Offensive Line! pic.twitter.com/7oLmCi6KYD— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) September 4, 2019
We have to know more, though. So we got in touch with our pal Brandon Lee Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation to give us the scoop on the Lions newest offensive lineman. Here’s what he had to say.
What are your thoughts on Vaitai time in Philly?
“Vaitai faced baptism by fire by having to go up against Ryan Kerrigan in his first NFL start as a rookie back in 2016. Some players could easily crumble after such a rough debut, but that didn’t happen. Instead, Big V settled in as a serviceable right tackle and cemented his status as the top swing tackle behind Jason Peters and Lane Johnson.
Vaitai was once again thrust into action during the 2017 season after Peters suffered a season-ending injury. He obviously played well enough for the Eagles to win Super Bowl LII with him at left tackle. Of course, it should be noted that Vaitai often received extra help. And there were ugly moments along the way. I recall Vaitai getting worked by a 39-year-old James Harrison in the final game on his NFL career. Still, on the whole, Vaitai was serviceable.
Vaitai looked really bad in the 2018 preseason; he got destroyed by Myles Garrett. He only made one start in the regular season, fortunately, but he did have to play a lot due to Peters constantly leaving games early. It was a tough spot for Vaitai to be in since he wasn’t regularly getting to prepare as a starter.
The Eagles moved Vaitai to right guard for the first time in his NFL career during the 2019 offseason. He was the favorite to start in place of Brandon Brooks had the Eagles’ Pro Bowl starter not been ready in Week 1. Brooks was ready, though, so Vaitai was limited to backup duty until ultimately taking over as the starter at right tackle when Johnson got hurt late in the year. The Eagles’ offense played some of their best football while Vaitai was starting.
Ultimately, I think Vaitai was a pretty good fifth-round selection for the Eagles. I never thought he should be counted on as a long-term starter but he was a valuable backup lineman at four out of five positions on the offensive line. From what I can tell, he seems like a nice guy and a good family man. It’s easy for Eagles fans to be happy for his pay day since he worked hard and helped Philly win a championship.”
What are his strengths?
“Versatility is an obvious one. He can play every offensive line position save for center.
Vaitai doesn’t lack experience with 20 starts in 55 games played. And those start numbers don’t include all the other games he played where Peters started but had to come out early.
Anecdotally, at least, Vaitai seemed to play his best football when he had a full week to prepare … as opposed to getting thrown into the fire during the middle of a game.
Vaitai is well-trained from having studied under Peters, a future Hall of Famer, and Jeff Stoutland, one of the best offensive line coaches in the league.”
What are his weaknesses?
“Vaitai has some absolute WTF moments in pass protection. He’s subject to getting totally wrecked from time to time. There were moments where he was one of PFF’s worst graded offensive tackles over a certain span. BGN’s Michael Kist previously highlighted Vaitai’s balance issues in greater detail.
Vaitai sat behind Lane Johnson and Jason Peters in Philly. Is he a great player that was held back by greater players? What should be expected from him?
“Given the dearth of quality offensive tackles in the NFL, Vaitai could very well be good enough to be a starter. Ideally, though, I think he’s a high level backup. Overall, he’s a ‘win with’ player … as opposed to a ‘win because of’ player. I don’t think he’ll be a disaster signing but there will be some frustrating moments along the way.”
“Halapoulivaati’s two brothers are named Kevin and Will.”