PHOENIX – It was rather quiet on the Halapoulivaati Vaitai front until last week's news the veteran guard agreed to a reduced one-year salary to stay in Detroit for the 2023 season. Vaitai, who started all 15 games he played in 2021, missed all of last season with a back injury.
Lions general manager Brad Holmes expressed optimism in Vaitai's recovery when speaking to reporters at the Annual League Meetings this week.
"He's in a good place," Holmes said. "We actually got some recent re-reports back that he's in a really good place. And we felt confident about doing the deal and glad to have him back."
Having Vaitai back in the fold now opens up an interesting competition along Detroit's talented offensive line for the starting right guard spot after the team signed veteran Graham Glasgow to a one-year deal in free agency this offseason.
Glasgow returns to Detroit after three seasons with the Denver Broncos, where he appeared in 37 games (33 starts). Prior to the Broncos, Glasgow spent the first four seasons of his career with the Lions after being a third-round pick in 2016.
"I like to use this, this is my new term that 'you're raising the floor.' Right?" Lions head coach Dan Campbell said of the expected competition between Vaitai and Glasgow. "A guy like Graham raises the floor. He's been a starter in this league. He's been a pretty good center. He's got guard flex, obviously. And so he's a guy that we know that can go in there and compete to start.
"Let's see where Big V's at coming off this back. I know we have some optimism in the building, you know? But we won't know. And really, that's what Graham gives you, man. He gives you ability – he can step in and he can hold the fort down. Man, if you need him at either of the positions, left guard, right guard or center, you got a guy. It's good to get him."
The Lions have built one of the best offensive lines in football with Pro Bowlers Frank Ragnow (center), Penei Sewell (right tackle) and Jonah Jackson (left guard), along with left tackle Taylor Decker, who was an alternate to the Pro Bowl this past season. The team threw for 4,000 yards and rushed for 2,000 yards last season for the first time in franchise history, in part, because of the play of the big guys upfront.
Evan Brown started in place of Vaitai in 2022 but left in free agency to sign with Seattle. With Vaitai and Glasgow now vying for the right guard spot, there's a chance the Lions' offensive front is even stronger in 2023.
"Vaitai, man, he's a good player," Holmes said. "He's a starting-level guard who fits what we're about along the offensive line. But obviously there are question marks or were question marks about his health and all of that.
"To get Glasgow in the fold – and Glasgow is a guy that's got positional versatility, as well. Obviously, we all know about his ability at guard, but the stuff that he did at center on tape last year was really exciting. It's good to have that competition and it should be good."