Building an offensive line that actually works has been the bane of Bob Quinn’s existence. The Detroit Lions general manager has invested everything he has had into the position—high draft picks, mid-round draft picks, lucrative free agency deals—and hasn’t had much to show for it on the field. Players like T.J. Lang, Graham Glasgow, Rick Wagner and (just prior to Quinn) Laken Tomlinson have come and went without transforming this unit into one of the best in the league.
It has to be frustrating to the Lions general manager, but 2020 proved he is nothing but insistent in fixing the problem. Not only did Quinn shell out two more draft picks on the offensive line, but he also handed over another hefty free agent deal for right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai. While his persistence is admirable, the contract he handed Vaitai reeks a little of desperation, and that’s why Vaitai is on our list as the No. 2 worst salary cap hit for the 2020 season.
Reminder: This list is only based on 2020 cap hits, not the entirety of the contract.
2. Halapoulivaati Vaitai
2020 cap hit: $5.4M
2020 cap hit ranking: 11th among right tackles
Vaitai was easily the Lions’ biggest head-scratching move this offseason. The former Eagles offensive tackle has been a backup his entire NFL career, but has started 20 games as an injury replacement. His performance has been inconsistent, at best, with Philadelphia.
That being said, he only remained a backup with the Eagles because he was behind two All-Pro tackles in Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. In having to play in emergency duty, Vaitai performed admirably, but nowhere near the level of his predecessors. He did produce a solid 74.4 PFF grade in 2019, but that was based on just three starts.
Vaitai was expected to land a starting job this offseason—his first shot at free agency. But with limited experience and just modest tape out there, a five-year, $45 million contract seems well above his value.
And this is just the beginning of the risk in this contract. Vaitai’s cap hit moves to $10.4 million next year (seventh among all right tackles), and it stays that high for the following three years ($8.4M, $10.4M, $10.4M). The Lions can get out of the contract with minimal dead money after 2021, but for the next two years, they’ve heavily invested in a player with limited experience, and that presents a pretty significant risk to the team.
The Lions spent a lot of money on a mediocre right tackle when they gave Rick Wagner a five-year, $47.5 million deal back in 2017. The veteran offensive tackle lasted three years before Detroit decided they needed an upgrade. Vaitai is both (slightly) younger and has a higher ceiling than Wagner did when the Lions signed him three years ago, but this still feels like repeating history.
Top 5 Detroit Lions worst salary cap hits for 2020: