The team placed the veteran offensive lineman on injured reserve this week, a move that is expected to bring an end to his 2023 season. Vaitai had already fallen out of the lineup due to his struggles with injuries and inconsistent play, and Jeff Risdon of USA Today’s Lions Wire believes the recurring injury will bring an end to his time with the Lions.
“The injury almost certainly closes the door on Vaitai’s playing career in Detroit,” Risdon wrote. “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.”
Dan Campbell Reveals Bad News for Halapoulivaati Vaitai
After Vaitai missed the entire 2022 season with a back injury, there was hope that he could rebound and return to form in 2023. But Lions head coach Dan Campbell confirmed this week that the current back injury is the same one that wiped out last season for Vaitai, a major setback for the 30-year-old tackle.
Campbell also cast doubt on the idea that Vaitai could return late this season or in the playoffs.
“That’s hard to say. I think it’s probably unlikely, but I don’t want to ever – never say never,” Campbell said when asked about the potential for a return. “But I would say it’s probably unlikely.”
Vaitai had already admitted that he considered retirement after his 2022 injury, saying during OTAs this offseason that he used the time away from the team as a test retirement.
“Instead of just having my head down, I took that time to spend time with my kids, my family,” Vaitai said, via SB Nation’s Pride of Detroit. “Just to see what retirement would feel like.”
Vaitai said that he enjoyed spending time with his family during his time away from the team rehabbing his injured back, but had a difficult time being away from football.
“The only thing I know is football,” Vaitai said. “But it was great. I got to reflect on my life and my career in the league. So it was really good.”
Vaitai ended up deciding to come back to the Lions, saying he didn’t want to leave the close relationships that he had fostered during his first three years.
“I can’t leave Penei (Sewell). I can’t leave all my guys. I can’t leave them,” Vaitai said. “I love this team a lot. I’m going to help Dan (Campbell) win one.”
Different Future for Halapoulivaati Vaitai in Detroit?
While his playing days could potentially be over, Vaitai could have a different future in football — and with the Lions. Campbell said this week that the well-liked veteran has an open invitation to stay with the team in whatever capacity that could be.
“I told him, we want him around here,” Campbell said. “He wants to be around and he’s still very much a part of us and what we are here.”