Philadelphia Eagles: The case against trading Halapoulivaati Vaitai

(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
(Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /

While Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles is surely coming to an end, that doesn’t mean the team should trade him away before the season.

When the Philadelphia Eagles decided to leapfrog the Houston Texans to draft Andre Dillard 22nd overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, it all but signified the end of the Halapoulivaati Vaitai-era in the City of Brotherly Love.

While opinions on Vaitai have varied considerably from season to season and based on who you ask, with some viewing him as a viable heir to Jason Peters‘ left tackle throne, and others calling him the second coming of Dennis Kelly (remember him?), Dillard is almost universally considered a better prospect who should eventually become a long-term starter at tackle for years to come.

But just because Vaitai may be looking for work next march when the final year of his rookie contract runs its course, that doesn’t mean Howie Roseman should rush to trade the 6-foot-6, 320-pound tackle for pennies on the dollar.

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Far from it in fact.

Upon making Dillard the team’s future, Jeff Stoutland and company almost immediately shifted Vaitai inside to work double-duty at both guard and tackle. While it seems unlikely that the ex-TCU tackle will be able to transform from a no-hands-on-the-ground air raid pass blocker to a traditional NFL offensive tackle, to a super-sized guard, that versatility could make him a seriously valuable reserve at four different positions across the line.

Since teams can only have 46 of their 53 players active on game day, having a swinger like Vaitai who can play four positions at an average level is immensely valuable – especially for a club that wants to play 16, 17, 18, or even 19 games in the forthcoming season.

Furthermore, while Vaitai doesn’t have the Pro Bowl upside of a player like Jordan Mailata, he has a much, much higher floor and could be invaluable for both players moving forward.

If the team were to trade away Vaitai and both Peters and Lane Johnson were unavailable at the same time for an extended period of time, the Eagles could have to weather a tenure of games with Dillard and Mailata bookending the offensive line – a disastrous proposition for the team’s ability to hold off rushers like Demarcus Lawrence, Ryan Kerrigan, and Tak McKinley on the right side.

Now Mailata’s long-term future as a potential starter did become a whole lot more cloudy when Dillard’s name was announced back in April, but if he can reach his potential, the team could firmly hold the mantle of the best offensive line in the NFL for the foreseeable future. While Mailata could rise to such an opportunity after a full season learning the ins and outs of the Eagles’ scheme (and football in general), he could also crumble under the pressure of an extended snap count and watch his confidence take a nosedive.

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While it’s entirely possible the Philadelphia Eagles could find their depth acceptable after a summer of extensive training and opt to go with young, high upside players in key reserve roles, but if Howie Roseman and company decide to trade Halapoulivaati Vaitai in the leadup to his fourth NFL season, it should only be because they were blown away by an amazing offer, not just for a late-round draft pick. Vaitai is like an insurance policy: you hope you never have to use him, but would hate to be caught without him.