Many Detroit Lions fans were wondering what the team was going to do with the contract of right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The veteran offensive lineman was set to hit $12.4 million against the cap in 2023—the fifth-highest figure on the team—but that didn’t really match the production they were getting out of him. Vaitai has struggled with injuries in his three years in Detroit and is coming off a year in which he missed the entire season due to a back injury.
The Lions had already restructured or completely renegotiated several different contracts, including Charles Harris, Tracy Walker, and Romeo Okwara. Now it appears the Lions have done the same with Vaitai.
Per Over The Cap, the Lions have completely overhauled Vaitai’s contract in a manner that will save $7.4 million immediately and completely remove Vaitai’s 2024 deal and replace it with a void here. Here’s a look at the old and the new contract.
Note: Justin Rogers of the Detroit News is reporting that OTC’s salary number is incorrectly labeled as $3 million when it is actually $1.21 million. The rest of OTC’s numbers are accurate, including cap hit.
UPDATE: Vaitai’s base salary is apparently $3 million, but due to an esoteric rule called the 50% rule, it’s only counts against the cap at next year’s minimum salary ($1.21M). The difference between the $3 million and $1.21M ($1.79M), is treated as a signing bonus and is spread over the remaining years of the cap.
So while Vaitai’s salary is technically $3 million, it functions more how it looks below.
What did they do?
Dropped Vaitai’s salary by $8.19 million.
Much like Harris and Okwara, Vaitai is taking a significant pay cut this season. However, while Okwara and Harris got the chance to earn some of that money back via gameday roster bonuses, they did something else for Vaitai.
Converted $1.79 million of his salary into a signing bonus
See update above for how the “signing bonus” — which isn’t technically a signing bonus — works.
You can see Vaitai’s prorated bonus went from $2.95 million to $3.84 million per year. That’s because the Lions are giving Vaitai $1.79 million right away for his troubles. That signing bonus gets split between the next two years in cap hit, hence the increase of just lower than $900,000 in prorated bonus each year.
Voided the last year in his contract
Vaitai was set to be under contract in 2024, but the Lions were able to negotiate that out of his contract completely. The existence of the void year means the remaining bonuses will still hit the cap next year, even though his contract will automatically expire.
In total, the Vaitai’s 2023 cap hit drops from $12.4 million to $5.05 million—a $7.4 million in savings this year. Vaitai will be a little more costly next year. Had the Lions cut him in 2024 on his old contract, they would’ve incurred $2.9 million in dead cap. Now that figure is $3.8 million when the contract voids next year.
Vaitai is now essentially guaranteed to be on the team this year, as he’d cost more to cut than to keep. That’s a good sign of Vaitai’s health coming off a back surgery, and could indicate the Lions expect him to start at right guard this season, despite signing Graham Glasgow in free agency.