Vaitai underwent back surgery this week in Dallas, Justin Rogers of the Detroit News notes. Campbell is not ruling out the seventh-year blocker for the season, but the Lions will be without their right guard starter for an extensive stretch.
This news comes during a week in which the Lions placed Vaitai’s primary backup, Tommy Kraemer, on injured reserve. Kraemer also suffered a back injury, one that caused him to miss the team’s season opener. Third-year guard Logan Stenberg started against the Eagles and is expected to remain in that role in Week 2. Stenberg, a 2020 fourth-round pick, had not started a game through two seasons. He committed two penalties and allowed a sack in his debut.
Although Kraemer (three starts as a rookie last season) did not play in Week 1, the Lions waiting until this week to place him on IR means he cannot return until Week 6. It is uncertain if the former UDFA will be ready by then. Vaitai’s timetable became clouded because of his procedure. He could be staring at his longest absence as a pro.
A former fifth-round Eagles pick, Vaitai signed a five-year, $45MM deal with the Lions in 2020. Detroit’s Bob Quinn–Matt Patricia regime authorized that contract. Vaitai has moved from right tackle to right guard during his time with the Lions, who drafted Penei Sewell to play right tackle last year. The high-priced acquisition has started 25 games for the Lions in two seasons, including 15 last season. Vaitai is signed through 2024, though the team can escape the contract with just more than $5MM in dead money in 2023.
The Lions were expected to feature one of the NFL’s top offensive lines this season, but they have suddenly seen that unit depleted early. In addition to Vaitai’s shutdown, center Frank Ragnow and left guard Jonah Jackson missed practice Thursday. Left tackle Taylor Decker is battling a calf injury, leaving Sewell as the only Detroit O-line starter not dealing with an ailment presently. As a result of the injury troubles, the Lions signed guard Kayode Awosikaoff the Eagles’ practice squad this week.
September 6th, 2022 at 10:09am CST by Sam Robinson
SEPTEMBER 6: While the issue affecting the veteran lineman’s availability remains a mystery, it is far from certain he comes back when first eligible. Vaitai is not a lock to play in 2022, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (on Twitter). Kraemer will be Detroit’s right guard starter, according to the official depth chart the team released Tuesday morning.
SEPTEMBER 5: Halapoulivaati Vaitai‘s third Lions season will not begin on time. The veteran offensive lineman is now on Detroit’s IR, mandating a four-game absence. The nature of Vaitai’s injury is unkonwn.
The well-paid blocker is expected to return as the Lions’ right guard starter, but the team will need to make other plans for its September slate. This will be Vaitai’s second IR trip since he signed with the Lions in 2020. The team also claimed guard Drew Forbes off waivers from the Browns on Monday.
A former Eagles draftee, Vaitai missed six games in 2020 due to a foot injury but returned to play in 15 last year. Vaitai, 29, represents part of a Lions source of optimism; both he and left guard Jonah Jackson ranked as a top-30 guards (per Pro Football Focus) in 2021. Along with former first-rounders Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow and Penei Sewell, the Lions are expected to field one of the league’s top O-lines.
Detroit’s fill-ins from 2020 are no longer on the roster, though Forbes is now in the mix. The team now rosters four backup interior O-linemen — a group that also includes 2020 fourth-rounder Logan Stenberg, fifth-year veteran Evan Brown and 2021 UDFA Tommy Kraemer. Brown served as Ragnow’s primary backup last season, and Kraemer made three starts in 2021. Neither Forbes nor Stenberg has started a regular-season game.
The Lions gave Vaitai a five-year, $45MM contract in free agency two years ago. He is due to count $8.7MM on the team’s 2022 payroll.
The Lions have released defensive back Daryl Worley from the practice squad, per a club announcement. In a related move, they’ve re-signed offensive lineman Tommy Kraemer to the 16-man unit.
Worley was on the Lions’ 53-man roster earlier this year, dressing for three games and appearing in two. His last outing came against the Rams in Week 7, when he got torched twice by Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp for touchdowns. The latter of the two proved to be the game-winning score and the last of Worley’s time on the varsity squad. The Lions brought him back on a PSQ deal, but that’s now over after one week.
The 26-year-old has bounced around the league since coming in as a 2016 third-round draft pick of the Panthers. After spending his first two seasons in Carolina, the defensive back has had stints with the Eagles, Raiders, Cowboys, Bills, Raiders (again), Cardinals, and Lions. His most recent, significant action came in 2019 when he made 15 games for the Raiders. Last year, he started in five of his 10 games, split between Dallas, Buffalo, and Las Vegas.
After their bye week, the Lions will aim for their first win of the year against the Steelers.