One of the most interesting developments for Detroit Lions free agency this year has been their approach to the offensive line—or lack thereof. The Lions cut guard Joe Dahl in a move that saved nearly $3 million. They also let veteran Oday Aboushi walk. That left a very big question at the right guard position, where Aboushi and Dahl accounted for eight of 16 starts at the position last year.
The remaining eight games at right guard were assumed by Halapoulivaati Vaitai. One of the Lions’ biggest free agency signings in 2020, not much has gone as planned for Vaitai since landing in Detroit. Originally signed as an offensive tackle, Vaitai quickly transitioned inside due to injuries. Vaitai himself saw a very injury-riddled season, which led to uneven play throughout the entire year.
So the future of the right guard was unclear as ever heading into free agency. And with no moves on the offensive line three weeks into free agency, it’s even less clear what the Lions are doing. However, head coach Dan Campbell provided some clarity during his media session Monday afternoon, specifically with Vaitai.
“Until we get our eyes on him and see where we feel like he fits best, it’s hard to just put that in stone, but I will say this—and we’ve talked to him about this—we’re a little intrigued by moving him inside to guard,” Campbell said. “That does intrigue us, and so we may—as a starting point—work there and see where we’re at.”
While Vaitai at guard wouldn’t free up the team’s need at the position—they currently just have Logan Stenberg and Evan Brown as interior backups—it does make the offensive line picture a little more clear. If the Lions view Vaitai as their potential starting right guard, that leaves just one vacancy in the starting lineup: right tackle.
The Lions do have Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson, and Dan Skipper on the roster who can each play the right tackle position. Crosby started 11 games there last season and has 18 starts in his career, but he’s predominantly served as a swing tackle able capable of backing up both the left and right tackle positions. Nelson is a converted defensive lineman with just one career start and a lot left to prove. Skipper has been around longer than Nelson, but has yet to notch an NFL start.
So if right tackle is a need going forward, it could have a big impact on the rest of free agency. They could potentially target a guy like Mitchell Schwartz in free agency, who Lions senior personnel executive John Dorsey signed to the Chiefs five years ago. Or, more importantly, it could mean offensive tackle will be in play early in April’s draft. Though the Lions have left tackle Taylor Decker locked up for the next four years, Oregon’s Penei Sewell or Northwestern’s Rashawn Slater remain realistic options for Detroit’s first-round pick.
But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, it’s worth noting that Campbell said this was their preliminary look at the roster and that could change.
“That’s tentatively right now before we’ve done anything else (in) free agency or in the draft,” Campbell said.