Although I am thankful Quinn and former head coach Matt Patricia are gone, they’ve left the Detroit Lions with a plethora of holes to fill, along with far too many bad contracts.
Not only did Quinn draft players like Jahlani Tavai in the second-round, explaining the team didn’t necessarily need a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, but they also needed a ‘thumper’ who fits Patricia’s system. Well, as it turns out, Tavai joins the Teez Tabors’ of the world in the Detroit Lions’ rich history of awful draft choices.
I understand Vaitai was not a draft pick, but Quinn didn’t exactly hit home runs in free agency either. In back-to-back seasons Quinn signed tight end Jesse James and Vaitai to lucrative deals. Vaitai joined the Lions as the seventh highest-paid right tackle in football averaging $9 million per season.
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Here is the problem, Vaitai, who spent the majority of his career to date filling in as a backup all across the Philadelphia Eagles offensive line, aside from playing the center position, but struggled to perform as an every day starting right tackle/guard for the Lions in 2020.
Vaitai was originally signed to replace Rick Wagner, and at the time, many folks suspected he’d be best suited playing right guard instead; they were right.
That was also a spot along the Lions offensive front that needed a replacement after the organization opted to let Graham Glasgow walk in free agency. The Denver Broncos quickly scooped up Glasgow, and the Lions apparently were reluctant to pay $10 million per season for a guard; unfortunately, that’s not how it turned out.
According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), Vaitai earned a lackluster overall grade of 59.7. Despite being known as a run-blocking mauler than a pass blocker, the PFF grades are not much of an indication. The big-man earned a 53.3 pass blocker and 60.2 as a pass blocker in 2020.
Now the Detroit Lions are stuck with Halapoulivaati Vaitai for another season.
The Lions are on the hook for $9 million this season, and the cap hit will come in at a whopping $10.4 million.
Recently I wrote a piece mentioning five potential cap casualties heading into the 2021 season, and Vaitai wasn’t listed. That was because his dead cap number this season is an astronomical $14.6 million.
You may be thinking, what’s the issue? Detroit is eating $19 million from Matthew Stafford’s deal to play elsewhere. That is precisely the point; why continue to purge the roster and pay a nauseating amount of money for players to play elsewhere if it doesn’t benefit the organization whatsoever.
I am all for releasing Vaitai, but it can’t happen until this time next season. If Detroit were to release him now, it would harm the salary cap. Detroit wouldn’t only be forced to eat $14.6 million in dead cap money; the move would cost the Lions -4.2 million against the cap.
At that rate, the Lions might as well keep Vaiati another season, and if he fails to break into the starting lineup, Detroit can use him as a backup. It appears Tyrell Crosby has the right tackle position locked up, and the guards should be Joe Dahl and Jonah Jackson, Still, hopefully, second-year guard Logan Stenberg develops into a starter perhaps unseating Dahl.
By this time next season Detroit will have an out.
Vaitai’s dead cap number is $4.2 million, and that is exactly what the Lions will save against the cap if he were to be released.
Let’s suffer one more year, and by this time next year, we should be talking about all of the Quinn dead weight Brad Holmes is shedding from this roster.