4 players the Detroit Lions may release to create additional cap space

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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Detroit Lions, Halapoulivaati Vaitai
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The Detroit Lions need to consider releasing Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

This decision was not nearly as clear-cut as it would have been a year ago.  Hal Vaitai was initially signed by Bob Quinn to replace right tackle Rick Wagner but failed to make an impact at the tackle position and performed better as a right guard, in turn, actually replacing Graham Glasgow.  The problem is Vaitai is playing guard but making tackle money.

The Detroit Lions signed Hal Vaitai to a five-year deal that averages $9 million per season.  Although the veteran guard hasn’t lived up to his paycheck, he did seem to settle in nicely as the starting right guard and built some chemistry with rookie right tackle Penei Sewell.  Vaitai and Sewell created some continuity as the season wore on, especially in the run game.

Late in the year, the Lions restructured Vaitai’s current deal converting the remaining $1.3 million in 2021 to a bonus that adds about $300,000 to each of the next three years of his current deal.

This past season Vaitai played a career-high 953 snaps and performed reasonably well, according to Pro Football Focus.  Vaitai earned an overall grade of 68.4, including a career-best 66.9 mark as a pass-blocker to go with a 65.4 mark as a run-blocker.  Vaitai’s run-blocking rate in 2021 comes in as the third-best of his career.

The Lions elected to make this move to free up some cap space down the stretch after being stricken with injuries and needed space to elevate players to the active roster from the practice squad on game days.  That doesn’t mean the organization is entirely willing to stand pat with Vaitai, but in my eyes, this points to the Lions choosing to keep Vaitai for at least one more season.

If you remove Vaitai’s contract from the scenario, he is a valuable depth player.  He has spent time playing four positions on the offensive line during his time with the Philadelphia Eagles.  The only position he has not played is the center position, so having this type of versatility can be valuable to an organization, but paying your worst starting lineman $9 million per season on average is a tough pill to swallow.

Vaitai will account for $8.7 million against the cap in 2022.  If the Lions elect to release the 28-year old, it will save them $3.5 million, but the dead cap number comes in at $5.2 million.  Do you think the savings is enough to make this move?

For me, it’s complicated.  I suspect the Lions will choose to keep Vaitai for one more season, but if they hope to upgrade the position or spend the savings elsewhere and plug-in someone like Logan Stenberg or Evan Brown with Frank Ragnow returning to the lineup, it wouldn’t surprise me.