With the start of the 2022 NFL season just two days away, teams are making roster moves to prepare for the year. Clubs are restructuring contracts to become cap-compliant and working out players to update their emergency lists, but we’ll start in Detroit, where the Lions’ offensive line has taken a hit before the season begins.
NFL roster moves roundup: Latest on Lions G Halapoulivaati Vaitai
The Lions have one of the NFL’s most underrated offensive lines, but they’re down one member of their front five as the regular season gets underway. Detroit announced Monday that they placed right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai on injured reserve, meaning he’ll miss at least the first four games of the year.
Unfortunately, it sounds as if Vaitai’s undisclosed injury could sideline him for longer than a month. After Vaitai’s four-game absence, Detroit will evaluate if he can return “at all” this season, per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.
That’s an ominous tone, underscoring the possibility that Vaitai may be sidelined indefinitely. Vaitai, who joined the Lions as a free agent in 2020 after beginning his career with the Eagles, is probably the weak link along Detroit’s OL, but his loss will force the club to make early-season alterations up front.
The Lions claimed offensive lineman Drew Forbes off waivers from the Browns to take Vaitai’s roster spot, but given that Forbes has never played an offensive snap in the NFL, he’s not a realistic candidate to fill at right guard. Instead, the battle to replace Vaitai will likely come down to Tommy Kraemer and Logan Stenberg.
Stenberg, a 2020 fourth-round pick, opened many eyes with his excellent preseason performance, but he only lined up at left guard. Kraemer, meanwhile, made three starts a season ago and has more experience on the right side. He’s likely the favorite to step in for Vaitai.
Eagles send Andre Dillard to IR
Eagles offensive tackle Andre Dillard fractured his forearm last week and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, so Philadelphia placed him on injured reserve today. As such, he’ll be required to miss at least the first four games of the year.
A first-round pick in 2019, Dillard was set to be the Eagles’ swing tackle Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson. With Dillard sidelined, the only tackle remaining on Philadelphia’s roster is third-year pro Jack Driscoll. Additionally, Le’Raven Clark is the sole OT on the Eagles’ practice squad, and he seems likely to get promoted to replace Dillard.
Giants restructure Leonard Williams’ contract
The Giants’ new front office has tried to avoid the risky financial maneuvers orchestrated by former general manager Dave Gettleman. Still, the new regime had to figure out a way to create enough cap space for the club to operate during the season.
On Tuesday, New York restructured defensive lineman Leonard Williams’ contract, reports Field Yates of ESPN. The Giants converted $17.88 million of Williams’ base salary into a signing bonus, creating $11.92 million in cap space in the process. Williams now has a void year included at the end of his contract in 2024.
The move to restructure Williams will give New York some breathing room in 2022, but it will make the veteran interior defender all the more difficult to cut down the road. Had the Giants cut Williams next offseason without reworking his contract, they would have realized roughly $18 million in savings while taking on $8 million in dead money.
Now, after the restructure, New York would save about $12 million by releasing Williams next offseason while absorbing $20 million in dead money. First-year GM Joe Schoen told reporters last week that he hoped to avoid this type of transaction, but the Giants didn’t really have a choice.
Rams rework Tyler Higbee’s deal
Big Blue isn’t the only team scrambling to get cap compliant before the season begins. The Rams restructured tight end Tyler Higbee’s contract and added three void years to create $3.8 million in cap space, per Yates.
Los Angeles typically spends right up to the cap, so reworking Higbee’s deal will give them a bit of a cushion to start the year. They’ll need the extra money to sign injury replacements or add practice squad players throughout the season.
Higbee signed a four-year, $29 million extension in 2019 that will keep him under contract through 2023. He’ll have cap charges of $4.25 million and $8.625 million over the next two seasons. Void years from 2024 through 2026 will help the Rams spread out his cap figures even further into the future.
Broncos work out QB Carson Strong
After being waived by the Eagles at final cutdowns, quarterback Carson Strong is hitting the workout circuit. According to Yates, Strong auditioned for the Broncos on Monday, according to Yates.
Initially viewed as an early-round draft candidate after a 4,000-yard campaign at Nevada, Strong ultimately went undrafted as NFL teams showed caution about the long-term health of his surgically-repaired right knee. Philadelphia gave Strong a $20K signing bonus and a $300K salary guarantee, but that wasn’t enough to keep him on the roster.
Denver kept Brett Rypien on their roster as Russell Wilson’s backup, and they also have veteran Josh Johnson on the practice squad. As 9News’ Mike Klis alluded to, the Broncos may be wary that Johnson could be quickly poached if a rival team suffers a quarterback injury. Thus, they’ll likely keep a prospect like Strong on speed dial.
Dolphins cut LB Brennan Scarlett from IR
The Dolphins agreed to an injury settlement with linebacker Brennan Scarlett, who was on IR, reports Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald, who adds that Scarlett should be available by Week 7 or 8.
Scarlett, 29, started four games for Miami in 2021 after spending the first five years of his career with the Texans. He posted 3 1/2 sacks as a semi-regular starter in 2019, but he’s spent most of his NFL tenure as a reserve and special teamer.
The Dolphins placed Scarlett on IR as part of their move to 53 players, so he wouldn’t have been eligible to return this season. However, now that he’s reached a settlement, Scarlett is free to sign with any team and can play this year.
Colts sign Phillip Lindsay to practice squad
The Colts released Phillip Lindsay as part of their final cutdowns last week, but they’ve now brought the veteran RB back into the fold. Indianapolis announced today that they’ve signed Lindsay to their practice squad.
Lindsay, 28, spent last season with the Dolphins and Texans, totaling 88 carries for 489 yards and a score between the two teams. The Colts are hoping they won’t have to rely on him, but he gives the club an experienced veteran behind Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Himes, and Deon Jackson.