Will Lions be tempted to make another big deal at trade deadline?
The NFL's trade deadline is Nov. 3, a little less than two weeks away, and all eyes will be on the Detroit Lions after the team has swung three big deals the past two years at this time, acquiring one high-profile starter, while dealing two away.
“Honestly, I really haven’t thought about any of that stuff right now," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "Just pretty focused on Atlanta. I would say typically, just sharing conversation with it, usually teams, right around the trade deadline, will start to make phone calls, they’ll start to inquire, they’ll start to ask. I think at that point, it depends on what individual teams are looking for from that accord, and what they might be interested in and what that whole picture looks like from both sides. That’s usually where it starts. Right now, for me, it’s really just Atlanta."
In 2018, Patricia's first year as coach, the Lions made a deal that altered the team's defensive fortunes, sending a fifth-round draft pick to the New York Giants for defensive tackle Damon Harrison.
The impact was instantaneous as Harrison would go on to start nine of the team's final 10 games, transforming the run defense from one of the league's worst to one of the best.
But while the move for Harrison suggested the Lions were pushing their chips all in on turning around that season, a week later they sent Golden Tate, the team's leading receiver that point in the year, to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The move both made sense and it didn't. At the time, the Lions were 3-4 and still competing for a playoff spot. On the other hand, Tate was 30 years old and in the final year of his contract. It was going to be tough to beat the third-round pick the Eagles offered in exchange.
Last season, the Lions similarly dealt a key contributor while in the early-season mix for a postseason berth, shipping safety Quandre Diggs to the Seattle Seahawks for a fifth-round draft choice.
Behind the scenes, Diggs had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff, but the team's replacement plan quickly fell apart when injuries forced inexperienced rookie Will Harris into a prominent role.
Due to a lingering injury, Diggs only appeared in five games for the Seahawks in 2019, but was still able to match his career-high with three interceptions in those contests.
Once again, the Lions are in no-man's land, still within sight of a playoff spot, but struggling to be consistently competitive week from week. On top of that, there's the added layer of uncertainty surrounding Patricia's and general manager Bob Quinn's job security.
With a mandate from ownership to be competing for the playoffs, the Lions would seem more likely to be buyers than sellers at the deadline, seeking to add a piece like Harrison, who could bolster a major weakness.
But if the team's decision-makers are honest with themselves, there are also realistic opportunities to sell pieces for future assets, like they did with Tate and Diggs. Among the tradable assets with expiring contracts are wide receiver Marvin Jones, linebacker Jarrad Davis, return man Jamal Agnew and running back Adrian Peterson.
None of those players are likely to bring back the third-round pick Tate did two years ago, but late-round draft selections could potentially be had.
"I think those are always difficult thought processes and conversations," Patricia said. "Certainly, Bob and his staff do a great job with that stuff and weighing out the balances with all that and communicating that all across the board. For us, it’s just focusing on what’s in front of us right now, really."