Getty Halapoulivaati Vaitai prepares to take a snap in a Detroit Lions game.
After four injury-plagued years, Halapoulivaati Vaitai may have played his final snap with the Detroit Lions.
The team placed the veteran offensive lineman on injured reserve this week, a move that is expected to spell the end of his 2023 season. Vaitai had already been 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 mark the end of his time with the Lions.
“The injury almost certainly closes the door on Vaitai’s playing career in Detroit,” Risdon wrote. “He is an impending free agent thanks to a revised contract that designates his 2024 season as a void year. Players over 30 with chronic back problems typically don’t find much of a market, even with a team that truly appreciates everything Vaitai has to offer 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 recover and get back to form in 2023. But Lions head coach Dan Campbell confirmed this week that the current back injury is the same one that sidelined him last season in Vaitai, a major setback for the 30-year-old.
Campbell also cast doubt on the idea that Vaitai could return late this season or in the playoffs.
“That is hard to say. I think it’s probably unlikely, but I never want to do it – never say never,” Campbell said when asked about the possibility of a return. “But I would say it’s probably unlikely.”
Dan Campbell says he doesn’t expect Big V to return this season. Dealing with the residual effects of last season’s back injury https://t.co/YQsu7GmAgv
— DetroitSportsPodcast (@DetroitPodcast) November 15, 2023
Vaitai had already admitted he was considering retirement following his injury in 2022, saying during OTAs this offseason that he used the time away from the team as a test retirement.
“Instead of just hanging my head, I took the time to spend time with my kids and family,” Vaitai said of SB Nation’s Pride of Detroit. “Just to see what retirement would feel like.”
Vaitai said he enjoyed spending time with his family during his absence from the team to rehabilitate his injured back, but found it difficult to be away from football.
“The only thing I know is football,” Vaitai said. “But it was great. I was able to reflect on my life and my career in the league. So it was really good.”
Vaitai ultimately decided to return to the Lions, saying he did not want to give up the close relationships he had cultivated in his first three years.
“I can’t leave Penei (Sewell). I can’t leave all my boys. I can’t leave her,” Vaitai said. “I love this team very much. I’m going to help Dan (Campbell) win one.”
Another future for Halapoulivaati Vaitai in Detroit?
While his playing days may be over, Vaitai could have a different future in football – and with the Lions. Campbell said this week that the popular veteran has an open invitation to remain with the team, in whatever capacity.
“I told him we wanted him here,” Campbell said. “He wants to be close to us and is still a part of us and who we are here.”
Nathan Dougherty is a sports reporter who covers the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions for Heavy.com. He previously wrote for the Rochester Business Journal and was associate editor of the sports journals Coaching Management, Athletic Management and Training & Conditioning. He lives in Rochester, New York and loves all things soccer. More about Nathan Dougherty