The Lions signed Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a five-year, $45 million contract this year even though he had never been a full-time starter in his NFL career. That is now looking like a big mistake.
Detroit moved Vaitai from right tackle to right guard early in the season, then benched him after an ugly first half on Sunday against the Panthers. Lions coach Matt Patricia declined to go into any details about why Vaitai is struggling.
“Big V’s out there battling every day and I think he’s pushing through some things that have restricted him a little bit,” Patricia said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “He’s a tough guy. He just goes out and really tries to do everything he can to help the team. At that point, I’ll probably leave it at that as far as that’s concerned.”
The Lions are on the hook for a $10.4 million cap hit for Vaitai next season, and the way his contract is structured, the cap hit would be even bigger if they cut him. That big contract might not be Patricia’s problem for much longer, but it will be a problem for the Lions.