Early in his tenure with the Detroit Lions, Halapoulivaati Vaitai struggled at right tackle.
After switching to right guard, the veteran offensive lineman started 15 games and recorded 953 snaps in 2021. He ranked 29th by Pro Football Focus among 88 guards with enough qualifying snaps.
The veteran has also taken right tackle Penei Sewell under his wing and provided a calming presence during his transition into the league.
“I feel like with Penei, after that first year, last year, I think he’s gotten into the groove with the game speed and understanding how the O-line works and how we work,” Vaitai told reporters at minicamp. “I think he’s improving a lot and he’s a great player. He asks a lot of questions, which us vets like a lot, right? Penei comes up with questions like, ‘Hey, I don’t understand this, what do you do here?’ and we’ll just sit together and talk about it.”
Along with the other linemen on the roster, Vaitai is excited and confident to play in new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson's scheme.
“I’m super confident (with the change in scheme). I’m excited for next year,” Vaitai said. “We still got a lot of work to do, so, like today, was really good. I felt pretty confident today in terms of two-minute drills, just learning against the defense is really good. It’s just something that we got used to, especially last year. We’ve just gotta keep the tempo going, keep the ball moving, so the defense can’t set up.”
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In a recent Bleacher Report article identifying one player each NFL team should trade, Vaitai was the player listed from the Lions.
Writer Brent Sobleski explained, "Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the weakest link among the starting five, 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."
Soblewski continued, "A Vaitai trade would save Detroit $7 million, and his spot can be capably filled by Evan Brown, who started 12 games last season for an injured Ragnow, Logan Stenberg or Tommy Kraemer."
While the cap saving is potentially appealing, upsetting the apple cart might not be the best idea ahead of a promising season for the unit.
If the five starters do not gel as expected, it may be worth exploring moving on from the 29 year-old lineman.