Cutting Halapoulivaati Vaitai makes no sense for the Lions now

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

Parting ways with and replacing Halapoulivaati Vaitai may have made sense for a time this offseason, but now the Detroit Lions simply aren’t going to make that move.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai was better in his second year as a Detroit Lion in 2021, spurred by better health. That said, the idea of replacing him while cutting or trading him this offeason for some cap relief wasn’t that far-fetched.

The Lions did not draft any offensive lineman, though they did make a couple significant investments in undrafted free agent lineman Kevin Jarvis and Obinna Eze. They also did not sign any veteran free agents who could viably step in to replace Vaitai, not that they had to be especially motivated to do so.

Ian Wharton of Bleacher Report has tabbed one player each NFL team should cut before the 2022 season starts. He picked Vaitai for the Lions.

"The Detroit Lions spent significantly to build arguably the NFL’s best offensive line. However, one of their big investments simply has not met expectations.Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the weakest link among the starting five, per Pro Football Focus, and his level of play isn’t commensurate with his pay. Vaitai signed a five-year, $45 million contract prior to the 2020 season when the Lions were trying to build up their trenches.A release of Vaitai would save Detroit $7 million, and his spot can be capably filled by Evan Brown, who started 12 games last season in place of an injured Ragnow, Logan Stenberg or Tommy Kraemer."

The Lions really can’t replace Halapoulivaati Vaitai at this point

While upcoming roster cuts could change the equation, it’s unlikely a starting-caliber right guard will hit the open market before the season starts. Vaitai is undoubtedly the “weakest link” on the Lions’ offensive line, but if he’s cut then he has to be replaced with at least a comparable player .

Evan Brown indeed filled in capably for Frank Ragnow at center last year, but asking him to step in at guard might be a big ask initially. Kraemer might be a viable replacement option for Vaitai if the cutting him path is taken, but Stenberg is unlikely to make Detroit’s 53-man roster.

On the surface it seems nice for the Lions to clear $7 million in cap space by cutting Vaitai. But what’s the benefit right now, in mid-August? There are no big signings and few possible trade acquisitions (Roquan Smith is an exception) to clear room for, so they’d create a hole on their best unit with no clear path to a comparable replacement or an upgrade.

At some point, Vaitai is ripe to replaced by a younger and cheaper (and better) option at right guard. But that point is not now, with the countdown to Week 1 starting to be numbered in days.

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