Have we seen the last of Halapoulivaati Vaitai playing in Detroit? It sure sounds like it.
Vaitai was placed on injured reserve this week with a back injury. The move comes after Vaitai, the Lions’ starting right guard, was inactive for the Week 10 game against the Chargers coming out of Detroit’s bye week.
Head coach Dan Campbell acknowledged that this back issue is an extension of the same injury that caused Vaitai, 30, to miss the entire 2022 season. Vaitai also missed time earlier this season with a knee injury. Campbell left the door cracked open for a return later this year, but for all intents and purposes, Big V’s 2023 season is over.
“That’s hard to say. I think it’s probably unlikely, but I don’t want to ever – never say never,” Campbell said of a potential Vaitai return this season. “But I would say it’s probably unlikely.”
The injury almost certainly closes the door on Vaitai’s playing career in Detroit. He’s a pending free agent, thanks to a reworked contract that leaves his 2024 season as a void year. Players over 30 with chronic back issues typically don’t find much of a market, not even with a team that genuinely appreciates all that Vaitai offers off the field.
Campbell might have hinted at a non-playing future in Detroit for Vatitai if he chooses to retire.
“I told him, we want him around here,” Campbell said of Vaitai. “He wants to be around and he’s still very much a part of us and what we are here.”
It was not said in the context of anything beyond this year, but it’s hard not to read between Campbell’s lines. Vaitai has been a fantastic mentor for young right tackle Penei Sewell, and Big V’s leadership and calm understanding of the game would seem to lend itself to a potential coaching future.