The headliner of the Detroit Lions roster moves on Tuesday was guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai going on IR due to a back issue. He had been back on the injury report with that back issue, which was notable because he missed all of last season after having back surgery.
It was worth wondering if, and easy to assume that, Vaitai is done for the season. On Wednesday, head coach Dan Campbell confirmed it's likely.
"I think it’s probably unlikely (he plays again this season),” Campbell said. “Never say never, but I would say it’s probably unlikely.”
Campbell also confirmed Vaitai's current back issue is related to the injury he suffered during the 2022 preseason. When he was sidelined last year and working his way back, he said he weighed retiring. A knee injury in Week 2 this season opened the door for Graham Glasgow to take the starting job at right guard, though Vaitai did re-enter the starting lineup when Glasgow moved to left guard in Week 7.
Lions guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai likely done for the season, and for his career?
Vaitai took a big pay cut to stay with the Lions last offseason, and that restructuring made the last year of his contract (2024) into a void year. He was the centerpiece of former Lions' general manager Bob Quinn's final free agent class in 2020, signing a five-year, $45 million deal after spending his first first four NFL seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. Injuries have marked his tenure in Detroit.
Vaitai may not be able to play the rest of the season, but he is a respected voice and a popular player in the Lions' locker room. Campbell unsurprisingly wants him to still be around the team.
"No matter what, I told him, we want him around here, he wants to be around and he’s still very much a part of us and what we are here," Campbell said.
The question for Vaitai now is if he wants to rehab a back injury again, enter the free agent market in March and be ready to play football in 2024. He directly pointed to the situation with the Lions as the chief reason he came back to play this year. So if he can't come back to the team, again, retirement becomes very likely.