Allen Park — The Detroit Lions made a seemingly stunning decision to trade Quandre Diggs on Tuesday and the floodgates of reaction opened almost immediate. Fans, for the most part, are confused and angry. And based on the social media reaction, those sentiments are shared by several of his now former teammates.
A popular player on and off the field, few if anyone saw this move coming beyond the team’s decision-makers. But when we allow the fog of surprise to lift — given that this is the second time in as many seasons the Lions have traded away a key starter near the trade deadline — we’re reminded this was part of the package when the team hired a front office and coaching staff largely groomed in New England.
If you want the franchise to try to be the Patriots, in terms of on-field success, you have to accept that they're going to do so by conducting business in the same manner as the NFL's gold standard.
That means it doesn’t matter if a player is popular or likable. It doesn’t matter if he was a big producer in the past, or even if he is a captain. If the Lions feel they have a younger, cheaper option, plus the ability to acquire draft assets, they’re going to make emotion-free decisions.
No one is safe.
About a year ago, the Lions traded wide receiver Golden Tate. It doesn’t take hindsight to know that move made more sense. Tate was on an expiring contract, the return compensation, a third-round pick, was exceptional value, and despite his continued high-level of production, there was a personality conflict behind the scenes.
Diggs, on the other hand, was under contract for two years beyond this one. He was viewed as a leader by teammates and the coaching staff alike. Yet, on the other hand, his play had unquestionably slipped to start this season, particularly his tackling. He missed six this year, according to Pro Football Focus. It was an issue that repeatedly showed up on tape.
And, yeah, the Lions just signed him to an extension a year ago, a three-year deal that kicked in this year, but the team couldn’t see into the future. They didn’t realize how much their situation would change at the safety position. They didn’t know Tracy Walker would develop far faster, and better, than imagined. They didn’t know they’d be taking another safety, Will Harris, in the third round this offseason, and that Harris would also develop at a quicker-than-expected rate.
And while Diggs always played bigger than his 5-foot-9 frame, because it fueled him and gave him an unteachable edge, it was always going to be tough to compete with a young tandem that possessed a prototypical combination of size, length and speed.
So on Tuesday the Lions moved on. Instead of waiting, delaying what they likely viewed as inevitable, they picked up some draft equity and saved a good chunk of cap space the next two years.
The challenge, obviously, is preventing a move like this from disrupting team morale. The Patriots can get away with it because those players know the franchise’s ruthless formula works. In Detroit, that has yet to be proven.
Throughout the past few offseasons, many fans like to say, “In Quinn we trust." It's their way of showing unquestioned support for general manager Bob Quinn’s roster building strategy. After the trade of Diggs, the blind faith of that crowd has unquestionably been shaken. What no one wants to hear is it’s going to take time to figure out whether the process will work here.