Back again here with our Detroit Lions free agent profiles series for the 2023-2024 season. This time I am here to discuss offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Vaitai signed with the Lions back in 2020, inking a five-year $45 million deal. With injuries riddling Vaitai the past few seasons, it might be time for Detroit to move onto someone else for depth on the offensive line.
Let’s take a deeper look at the case for letting Vaitai go.
Expectations heading into 2023
Vaitai missed all of the 2022 season due to a back injury he suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the preseason finale. Last offseason, the Lions restructured Vaitai’s contract, voiding out the fifth year in the deal, having him take a pay cut, and converting some of his salary to a signing bonus. With the back injury he suffered in 2022, Vaitai considered stepping away from the game and retiring.
“I took that time to spend time with my kids, my family, just to see what retirement would feel like. But at that same time, I’ve got that chip on my shoulder, so I’m going to come back strong,” Vaitai said in May 2023.
Vaitai was expected to still be a starter at right guard in 2023 despite missing all of 2022, but it was clear that the team was making it his last chance to show his worth.
Actual role in 2023
Note: PFF grades combine regular season and playoffs and reflect a minimum 20% snaps at that position. Vaitai didn’t hit that threshold in 2023.
Regular season — 6 games (3 starts): three pressures allowed, two hurries, and one sack
PFF Offensive grade: 68.3
PFF Run Blocking grade: 64.6
PFF Pass Blocking grade: 68.4
During training camp, Vaitai competed with offensive lineman Graham Glasgow for the right guard job. With center Frank Ragnow needing rest, Glasgow would play center, giving Vaitai more snaps at right guard. Vaitai would end up winning the starting job from Glasgow, getting the start in Week 1.
Vaitai played two games before suffering a foot injury that would knock him out for back-to-back games. Returning in Week 5, Vaitai played on special teams until he got another start in Week 7. After that game, Vaitai was sidelined with a back injury again, making him questionable in Week 8. He would play special teams again, but that would be his season. He didn’t play Week 9, was ruled out for Week 10, and the Lions put him on IR, ending his season.
Outlook for 2024
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Why Detroit must let Vaitai go
One of the most important things in any sport is being able to play. Vaitai hasn’t been able to do that ever since arriving in Detroit. He played in 10 games in 2020, 15 in 2021, zero in 2022, and six in 2023. For a player who was signed to a five-year deal originally, he has only played just two seasons’ worth.
Vaitai also hasn't been as good in Detroit as he was with the Philadelphia Eagles. In his last season with the Eagles, Vaitai had a 72.8 PFF grade, 75.5 run blocking grade, and 62.1 pass blocking grade according to PFF. His best year in Detroit was technically 2023, but it hardly counts with just three starts. That said, his 2021 season was decent, earning a 68.4 overall grade, 65.4 run blocking grade, and a 66.9 pass blocking grade in 15 starts.
Overall, health is the major issue with Vaitai and if he was available to play more, I would be down to keep him as a depth piece on the offensive line. The Lions need players who can fill into the starting lineup in case someone goes down with an injury, and if one of their top options as a replacement can’t be an option, then it’s time to move onto someone else who can contribute and for a cheaper deal.
Is there interest from both sides?
Since going on IR, Vaitai hasn’t talked to the media but there haven’t been any rumors or discussions that seem to show that Vaitai is returning to Detroit in 2024. If he was considering retirement back in 2022, I would guess that Vaitai could be considering it again this offseason, especially since the injury is the same one that knocked him out back in 2022.
At some point, you have to put your health first and if Vaitai just can’t go anymore, it’s the better move to retire and spend his time with his family and go onto another avenue.
What do you think the Lions should do with Halapoulivaati Vaitai?
What should the Lions do for tight end depth in 2024?
This poll is closed
Re-sign Zach Ertz (UFA)
Re-sign Brock Wright (RFA)
Re-sign Anthony Firkser (UFA)
Re-sign Shane Zylstra (ERFA)
Sign backup/third string in free agency
Draft a backup/third string option