Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Lions G Halapoulivaati Vaitai Undergoes Back Surgery

When the Lions placed Halapoulivaati Vaitai on IR shortly after finalizing their 53-man roster, the extent of his injury was unknown. Dan Campbell provided more clarity on the matter, which now appears to have the veteran guard facing an extended absence.

Vaitai underwent back surgery this week in Dallas, Justin Rogers of the Detroit News notes. Campbell is not ruling out the seventh-year blocker for the season, but the Lions will be without their right guard starter for an extensive stretch.

This news comes during a week in which the Lions placed Vaitai’s primary backup, Tommy Kraemer, on injured reserve. Kraemer also suffered a back injury, one that caused him to miss the team’s season opener. Third-year guard Logan Stenberg started against the Eagles and is expected to remain in that role in Week 2. Stenberg, a 2020 fourth-round pick, had not started a game through two seasons. He committed two penalties and allowed a sack in his debut.

Although Kraemer (three starts as a rookie last season) did not play in Week 1, the Lions waiting until this week to place him on IR means he cannot return until Week 6. It is uncertain if the former UDFA will be ready by then. Vaitai’s timetable became clouded because of his procedure. He could be staring at his longest absence as a pro.

A former fifth-round Eagles pick, Vaitai signed a five-year, $45MM deal with the Lions in 2020. Detroit’s Bob QuinnMatt Patricia regime authorized that contract. Vaitai has moved from right tackle to right guard during his time with the Lions, who drafted Penei Sewell to play right tackle last year. The high-priced acquisition has started 25 games for the Lions in two seasons, including 15 last season. Vaitai is signed through 2024, though the team can escape the contract with just more than $5MM in dead money in 2023.

The Lions were expected to feature one of the NFL’s top offensive lines this season, but they have suddenly seen that unit depleted early. In addition to Vaitai’s shutdown, center Frank Ragnow and left guard Jonah Jackson missed practice Thursday. Left tackle Taylor Decker is battling a calf injury, leaving Sewell as the only Detroit O-line starter not dealing with an ailment presently. As a result of the injury troubles, the Lions signed guard Kayode Awosika off the Eagles’ practice squad this week.

Lions Place G Halapoulivaati Vaitai On IR

SEPTEMBER 6: While the issue affecting the veteran lineman’s availability remains a mystery, it is far from certain he comes back when first eligible. Vaitai is not a lock to play in 2022, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). Kraemer will be Detroit’s right guard starter, according to the official depth chart the team released Tuesday morning.

SEPTEMBER 5: Halapoulivaati Vaitai‘s third Lions season will not begin on time. The veteran offensive lineman is now on Detroit’s IR, mandating a four-game absence. The nature of Vaitai’s injury is unkonwn.

The well-paid blocker is expected to return as the Lions’ right guard starter, but the team will need to make other plans for its September slate. This will be Vaitai’s second IR trip since he signed with the Lions in 2020. The team also claimed guard Drew Forbes off waivers from the Browns on Monday.

[RELATED: Offseason In Review, Detroit Lions]

A former Eagles draftee, Vaitai missed six games in 2020 due to a foot injury but returned to play in 15 last year. Vaitai, 29, represents part of a Lions source of optimism; both he and left guard Jonah Jackson ranked as a top-30 guards (per Pro Football Focus) in 2021. Along with former first-rounders Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow and Penei Sewell, the Lions are expected to field one of the league’s top O-lines.

Detroit’s fill-ins from 2020 are no longer on the roster, though Forbes is now in the mix. The team now rosters four backup interior O-linemen — a group that also includes 2020 fourth-rounder Logan Stenberg, fifth-year veteran Evan Brown and 2021 UDFA Tommy Kraemer. Brown served as Ragnow’s primary backup last season, and Kraemer made three starts in 2021. Neither Forbes nor Stenberg has started a regular-season game.

The Lions gave Vaitai a five-year, $45MM contract in free agency two years ago. He is due to count $8.7MM on the team’s 2022 payroll.

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 1/3/22

Here are Monday’s activations from and placements on the reserve/COVID-19 lists:

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Kansas City Chiefs

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: OT Mike Remmers (remains on IR)

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

  • Activated from reserve/COVID-19 list: RB Raymond Calais (remains on IR)

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

NFL COVID-19 List Updates: 12/29/21

Several key players returned to practice Wednesday. Here are the latest COVID-19 updates from around the league:

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Kansas City Chiefs

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Chargers

Los Angeles Rams

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

Pittsburgh Steelers

  • Activated from practice squad/COVID-19 list: WR Rico Bussey

Seattle Seahawks

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Lions, Halapoulivaati Vaitai Rework Deal

The Lions have carved out a little extra cap room with help from Halapoulivaati Vaitai. On Tuesday, the Lions converted $1.335MM of the offensive lineman’s base salary into a signing bonus, giving them an additional $1MM in space for the rest of the year (Twitter link via Field Yates of ESPN.com).

The Lions aren’t playing for much at this point, but they may need a few bodies to close out the year. If the season ended today, the Lions (2-12-1) would hold the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, behind only the 2-13 Jaguars.

Vaitai joined the Lions in the 2020 offseason, scoring a shockingly large five-year, $50MM deal. While quality offensive linemen are hard to find on the open market, no one expected that kind of deal for a player who had started just four games over the previous two years.

So far, the former Eagle hasn’t done much to justify his deal. Last year, he was limited to just ten games and graded out as Pro Football Focus’ No. 51 ranked guard out of 80 qualified players. This year, it’s a similar story — he’s 49th out of 80. On the plus side, he’s been mostly healthy, starting in 14 games through 16 weeks.

The Lions will face the Seahawks on Sunday before wrapping the 2021 season against the Packers on Jan. 9.

North Notes: Clowney, Vaitai, Parks

Let’s round up a few notes from the North divisions:

  • For the second year in a row, Jadeveon Clowney is drawing interest from the Browns. Though Clowney’s recent visit to Cleveland did not result in a contract, Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com says the Browns still want to sign him if the price is right (and assuming the team is comfortable with his health). Clowney ultimately settled for a one-year, $13MM pact from the Titans last year after originally seeking a multi-year contract with an AAV of $20MM, and any deal he signs this year will likely be for much less than last year’s $13MM salary. But new Browns acquisition Malik Jackson believes Cleveland has what it takes to win the Super Bowl in 2021, and he suggested that Clowney should jump at the chance to sign up with the Browns. “If you want to hop on board, come hop on board,” Jackson said. “I understand the free agency market is not what he probably wants, but things are bigger than monetary value. You get a chance to be on a good team and set yourself up in the future.”
  • When the Lions signed Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a five-year, $50MM contract last offseason, most expected he would suit up at right tackle. He missed six games in 2020 due to injury, but he played five games at guard, four games at tackle, and he split time between the two positions in one other game. New head coach Dan Campbell says he currently plans to slot the TCU product at guard (via Tim Twentyman of the team’s official website). “[W]e’re a little intrigued about moving him inside to guard.” Campbell said. “That does intrigue us. We may as a starting point work there and see where we’re at.” Campbell should have a solid group to protect QB Jared Goff, with Taylor Decker at LT, Jonah Jackson at LG, Frank Ragnow at C, Vaitai at RG, and a deep OL draft to add a quality rookie at RT.
  • Before the Vikings signed former Cowboys safety Xavier Woods as part of their overhaul in the secondary, they tried to land Will Parks, as Darren Wolfson of KSTP tweets. Parks spent the first four years of his career in Denver before signing a one-year pact with the Eagles last offseason. He didn’t make it through the 2020 season with Philadelphia, as he was waived late in the season and was claimed by the Broncos (though the Vikings put in a claim as well). But according to Wolfson, Minnesota wanted to bring in Parks on a veteran minimum pact — which the club also tried with Woods — and Parks turned them down.

Minor NFL Transactions: 12/19/20

Here are Saturday’s minor moves:

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Chicago Bears

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Detroit Lions

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Las Vegas Raiders

Los Angeles Rams

New England Patriots

New Orleans Saints

New York Giants

New York Jets

Philadelphia Eagles

San Francisco 49ers

Seattle Seahawks

Tennessee Titans

Washington Football Team

Minor NFL Transactions: 11/25/20

Here are Wednesday’s minor moves:

Baltimore Ravens

Dallas Cowboys

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Jacksonville Jaguars

Washington Football Team

Extra Points: Kinlaw, UDFAs, Lions, Vaitai

2020 draft prospect Javon Kinlaw has an incredible story. The South Carolina defensive tackle had a rough upbringing, and was homeless for much of his childhood. As he prepares for the next chapter of his journey, Kinlaw gave an interview to Kimberly Jones of NFL.com. He said he doesn’t think about his past all that much, and called himself “hands down, without a doubt,” the best defensive tackle in the draft. He’s competing with Auburn’s Derrick Brown for that title, and is a lock to be a first-round pick. Although providing for his young daughter will be great, Kinlaw said his large rookie contract won’t be the best part. “Money’s going to be there and that’s cool,” he said. “But I love football. I’m just happy I get the chance to do what very few get a chance to do. I get a chance to play the game you grow up seeing. To have it as a job? You can’t ask for more than that.”

Kinlaw didn’t play in the Senior Bowl because of knee tendinitis and then didn’t work out at the combine, but it doesn’t sound like there are serious injury concerns. One team evaluator told Jones that Kinlaw’s recent medical reports came back clean. The former Gamecock said he’s spoken with “about 14 teams” in advance of the draft. Kinlaw could very well go inside the top ten, and he shouldn’t have to wait too long to hear his name called.

Here’s more from around the league as draft week approaches:

  • For all the talk about how the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the draft and potential technical malfunctions that could ensure while conducting it virtually, it could be even more disruptive for the undrafted free agent process. Undrafted free agency normally moves very fast as the draft wraps up, and Ben Volin of the Boston Globe spoke to some agents who think it’ll get complicated. One agent said it will be a “complete mess” and that “if they operate the same way this year there’s going to be more deals being reneged because they filled too many spots.” There are apparently concerns of communication issues in the frenzy that usually takes place, and as an example Volin writes that a “safeties coach could call a player and tell him to expect an offer, not realizing that [his team doesn’t] have the roster space.” Some around the league are calling for a gap to make things smoother. “Make it a separate day. Doing it on the third day of the draft this year is going to be miserable,” one agent argued. “I don’t see why everybody wouldn’t be on board with that.” Volin notes that he reached out to a league spokesman to see if they’d consider pushing it back, but got no response.
  • When the Lions gave Halapoulivaati Vaitai a big five-year, $50MM deal, most assumed he would take over for Ricky Wagner at right tackle, but that’s apparently not necessarily the case. Detroit GM Bob Quinn recently indicated the team might opt to play him at right guard, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (Twitter link). “We feel like we can plug him in either spot. … We’ll kind of see where the roster shapes up,” Quinn said. Birkett notes in a follow-up tweet that they certainly paid him like a right tackle, but may opt to kick him inside if there’s a tackle they really want early in this draft. They have Taylor Decker at left tackle. Vaitai was highly regarded in Philadelphia, but was buried behind the Eagles’ surplus of tackles, so he only started four games over the past two years.

Contract Details: Bridgewater, Panthers, Vaitai, Lions, Byrd, Patriots, Brees, Saints

The latest notes on all of the contracts being handed out around the league:

  • QB Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers: signed. Bridgewater got a three-year deal worth $63MM and a whopping $40MM of that is guaranteed in the first two years, according to David Newton of ESPN.com. He got a $15MM signing bonus to take over for the start of the Matt Rhule era. Newton’s post has the full breakdown on how it’ll be paid out with various workout and roster bonuses.
  • OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Lions: signed. Vaitai’s five-year, $50MM contract includes $20MM guaranteed which will come in the first two years of the deal, Adam Caplan of Sirius XM NFL Radio tweets. Detroit can get out of the pact after that.
  • WR Damiere ByrdPatriots: signed. Byrd’s one-year deal can be worth up to $2.5MM, Mike Garafolo of NFL Network notes in a tweet.
  • QB Drew Brees, Saints: re-signed. Brees’ two-year, $50MM new deal with New Orleans includes a signing bonus of $23MM and a small base salary of only $2MM in year one, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets. That structure as well as two voidable years added on for 2022-2023 help keep his 2020 cap hit very low so the Saints can spend more as they gear up for one more Super Bowl with Brees under center.
  • LB Sean Lee, Cowboys: re-signed. Lee is back for one more ride on a one-year, $4.5MM deal with $2MM guaranteed. He actually could earn up to $6.5MM if he hits some playing time incentives, according to Todd Archer of ESPN.com, although he writes they’re “not-likely-to-be-earned.”
  • S Darian Thompson, Cowboys: re-signed. Thompson is getting a two-year deal worth $2.5MM, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets. He’s getting a $200K signing bonus and can earn an extra $250K with playing time escalators.
  • WR Cody Core, Giants: re-signed. New York locked up the special teams ace who barely plays on offense, and he got paid handsomely. Core will be getting $4MM over a two-year deal, Wilson tweets. Only $1MM of it is guaranteed however.
  • S Jordan PoyerBills: extension. The full details are in on Poyer’s new pact. Poyer had two new years added on and will now make $22.7MM over the next three years with $13MM of that being guaranteed, Wilson tweets. He also got a $3MM signing bonus. In a separate tweet, Wilson notes that Poyer has an annual $500K interception incentive he can earn.