As bad-looking big contracts doled out by former Lions general manager Bob Quinn go, Halapoulivaati Vaitai's only really stood out because it was the last remaining. Multiple restructurings eventually yielded him taking a big pay cut to stick around this offseason, after he missed all of last season due to a back injury.
On one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, with three first-round picks and a Pro Bowler who wasn't a first-rounder, Vaitai stands for most people as the "weakest link." It's safe to assume he will be replaced at right guard in 2024, with a younger player. The Lions brought Graham Glasgow back in free agency this offseason as competition for the starting job at right guard.
The work for the Lions' offensive line was made easier during Thursday night's season opener was made easier by the absence of Chiefs' defensive tackle Chris Jones. Even with that, three of the five guys up front were among Pro Football Focus' five highest-graded Lions offensive players in the game.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai was huge standout for Lions against the Chiefs
Right tackle Penei Sewell (75.5) and center Frank Ragnow (75.1) registered excellent grades from PFF for their performances against Kansas City. But Vaitai usurped them with an 88.4 mark. That grade was also nearly 10 points higher than any other Lion, on either side of the ball (running back Jahmyr Gibbs-78.8; defensive tackle Alim McNeill-78.6).
Vaitai did not allow a single pressure on Jared Goff, and his run-blocking grade was the highest by anyone on either team. That 88.4 overall grade was the second-highest PFF grade he has gotten in his career, only bested by the 2021 season finale against the Packers. Which also happens to be the last regular season game he played in before Thursday night.
The Lions' five offensive line starters had not played a single snap together under Dan Campbell before Thursday night. The entire unit played well against the Chiefs, but that Vaitai stood out like he did is a great sign.