The Lions’ offensive line figures to receive a considerable boost in 2023 with Halapoulivaati Vaitai back in the fold. The veteran guard was initially unsure of whether he wished to continue playing after missing the entire 2022 campaign, but this offseason convinced him to return to the field.
Vaitai underwent back surgery in September, and he was unable to recover in time to occupy his starting right guard role for the Lions. Detroit was pegged to have one of the league’s top offensive fronts heading into the season, but his absence weakened the unit and left his playing future in doubt. The 29-year-old remains unsure of the exact details of the procedure he had, but the recovery process has been encouraging from a short- and long-term view.
“After surgery, I was like, ‘Let me just rest. Let me just enjoy this time,” Vaitai said, via Justin Rogers of the Detroit News. “And then when I started training again, I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m not ready to retire yet.”
The former Eagles fifth-rounder started all 25 appearances he made in Detroit across the 2020 and ’21 campaigns. A resumption of his first-team duties would come as little surprise if he showcases his health during the offseason. However, the Lions have made a few depth additions to their line to guard against Vaitai’s uncertain status moving forward. That includes a reunion with Graham Glasgow; the latter could compete for playing time at the RG spot on what is an otherwise intact unit.
Vaitai initially had two years remaining on his contract, but he agreed to remove 2024 from his pact in addition to taking a signficant pay cut. That move could give the Lions a cost-effective contributor up front if the TCU alum can return to his previous form. Especially if that turns out to be the case, Vaitai could use his rebound campaign to earn himself a notable deal on the open market next offseason to continue his career further, either from the Lions or another team.