It was announced in the early afternoon of September 14 that Lions guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai has opted to undergo Back surgery. The Detroit Lions right guard was advised to undergo back surgery after consulting with specialists, and ultimately underwent the procedure on Tuesday night in Dallas. Vaitai was put on the injured reserve ahead of the season opener against the Eagles, and Lions fans and coaches were optimistic that he could return later in the season. This hope is now becoming bleak, as his surgery puts his chance of returning in 2022. If Vaitai is unable to return, it appears that guard Logan Stenburg would take his place.
Vaitai was the cornerstone of the Lions’ free-agent class in 2020. His five-year, $45 million deal was meant to guarantee that he would become Detroit’s right tackle of the future. Vaitai has not lived up to his contract, as in 2021 he missed the first two games of the season due to a foot injury, and then later went on injured reserve with more injury issues. Aside from the injuries, Vaitai was disappointing at right tackle, ultimately being moved to guard later in the season.
While this contract is looking like a bust, beyond the fiscal loss, this is a massive loss for the status of the Lions Offensive Line. Vaitai ranks one of the best in the league, and Detroit has little depth at Offensive Line.
“You’re definitely going to miss Big V,” offensive line coach Hank Fraley said. “It’s always hard to replace (a guy like that). But he’s great. He’s in great spirits. I’ve texted with him, and he says, ‘I’ll be ready to go, Coach.’”
His backup, Logan Stenburg, played week one against the Eagles and had an inconsistent game. Hopefully, in Vaitai’s absence, Stenburg can progress into a proven starter.
Whether Vaitai returns this season or next, we all wish the best for Big V.