Detroit Lions: Signing Halapoulivaati Vaitai comes with plenty of risk

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

Bob Quinn didn’t pull the trigger the second free agency started, but the Detroit Lions have been one of the busier teams over the last couple of days.

Leading up to the start of the NFL free agency period, the Detroit Lions decided to release starting right tackle Ricky Wagner. Wagner struggled mightily last season, and he’s never been known as a run-blocking tackle.

It doesn’t always play out this way, but generally, the left tackle is primarily an agile, pass blocker.  The right tackle is usually more of a mauling run blocker.  Wagner, aside from last season, has always been an above-average pass-blocking tackle but a below-average run blocker.  Last season Wagner was nothing short of atrocious in both areas.

The Detroit Lions desperately needed to upgrade their right tackle, but losing Graham Glasgow, forces Detroit to re-tool the entire right side of the offensive line (OL).  Glasgow signed a four-year deal worth $44 million with the Denver Broncos.

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The Lions opted to bring in right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai formally of the Philadelphia Eagles. Vaitai had been more of a back-up utility offensive lineman.  Last season Vaitai played 380 snaps at right tackle but also saw time at left tackle, left guard, and right guard.  He also lined up 47 times as a tight end, but just in a jumbo set, of course.

Bob Quinn signed Vaitai, who is a monster of a man, to be the team’s primary right tackle.  He is an above-average run blocker earning a grade of 75.4 per Pro Football Focus last season.  That being said, his 62.1 pass-blocking grade remains suspect.  His 72.8 overall grade is a significant upgrade to Wagner’s 59.0 last season.  72.8 ranks him as the 22nd overall NFL tackle last season.

The main concern I have is the fact that Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions awarded Vaitai with a five-year deal worth $50 million but were reluctant to grant Glasgow $44 million over four years? I understand they play different positions, but we know what Glasgow brings to the table.

Vaitai doesn’t arrive in Detroit without some concern.

Vaitai has only started a total of four games over the last two years combined.  The Detroit Lions are rolling the dice that Vaitai can be the run blocking mauler they seek.  Vaitai turns 27 years old in June and stands 6’6 and 320 pounds.

I mentioned Vaitai’s success last season but you don’t need to go back to far to find some severe issues.  In 2018, he earned an overall grade of 49.9.  Absolutely atrocious.  That’s after playing 334 offensive snaps.

Let’s look at 2017.  Vaitai played a career-high 828 snaps in ’17 earning an overall grade of 56.6.  Let me remind everyone again, Wagner earned a grade of 59.0 last season.  In both of those seasons’ the run blocking grade came in below 60.0–yikes.

The Philadelphia Eagles selected Vaitai with the 164th pick in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of TCU.

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The Lions needed to sign a right tackle, but with Jack Conklin, and Bryan Bulaga both available, I feel Vaitai is the risker choice.