In late October 2018, the Detroit Lions traded a fifth-round pick to the New York Giants for Damon Harrison Sr., bringing in the league’s best run defender for the price of a mid third day pick. Lauded as an absolute coup by the Lions, Harrison rewarded the team by revitalizing their run defense in 2018.
The 2019 season saw the Lions make another trade involving a starting defender and a fifth-round pick, only this time it was to ship former safety Quandre Diggs to the Seattle Seahawks with only that third day pick as compensation. The reactions were largely the same as the Harrison trade, only entirely in Seattle’s favor.
It’s bound to be a hot topic for the rest of the season, and we’ve already started to take a look at how this might affect the team. In our private conversations here at POD, and based on the reactions on social media, I believe I have a bit of a different take on this trade than most and wanted to share why it may not be as bad as it’s being made out to be.
First, let’s acknowledge the reasons this trade was met with so much ire in the first place. To say that Quandre Diggs was liked and respected in the Lions locker room would be like saying that Barry Sanders was a pretty decent running back. He was almost universally loved and well thought of by any player asked. His trade was not well received at all among his now former teammates and you rarely see a team captain moved for such a small amount in return.
Speaking of the return, the Lions shipped along a seventh-round pick with Diggs and received only a fifth-round pick. For a starting player, that’s not a lot of return. Let’s put a pin in that for the moment.
Diggs was a Pro Bowl alternate in 2018, and his play was such that he certainly deserved that sort of accolade. From the moment he switched from corner to safety, Quandre Diggs was a stud on the Lions defense. Small player, late-round pick, player with a big attitude and the play to back up his mouth? What was there not to like?
That’s where my thought process starts to diverge a bit from what I’ve been hearing regarding this trade. You see, as good as Diggs has been for the Lions, he has been pretty bad to start 2019. Like Damon Harrison, Diggs isn’t playing nearly as good as he has in seasons past. It’s more than just not playing well, it’s playing poorly, and six games into the season we’ve either reached or passed the point when you can lean on their previous play and hope they’re going to return to it.
Let’s take a look at this in greater detail. In terms of traditional stats, Diggs has recorded 17 solo tackles through five games (He was injured against Kansas City and didn’t play against Green Bay). That’s the full list of his stats on the year, no interceptions, no forced fumbles, no pass deflections and no tackles for a loss. What about PFF? Diggs rates as the fourth best safety on the Lions roster through six games, behind Tavon Wilson, Tracy Walker, and third-round rookie Will Harris. Diggs also leads the team in missed tackles (tied with Jahlani Tavai with six) and has one of the worst tackling grades among all NFL safeties.
Let’s take a look at that compensation again. When the Lions acquired Damon Harrison for a fifth-round pick, he was the very best in the NFL at a grossly undervalued position (nose tackle). Quandre Diggs netted slightly less than that with a pick going the other way, but he also hasn’t played anywhere near the level that Harrison did. Like Snacks, Diggs also plays an undervalued position, as we saw this offseason’s safety market flush with starters and former stars that got bottom-tier contracts late into free agency. The compensation for Diggs doesn’t look great at first, but when you really look at it, that’s just the market.
This is the part where I point to Tavon Wilson and Will Harris’ PFF grades and tell you how much better off the team truly is without Diggs, right? Sorry to say this is where it gets a little murkier. While it’s true that Wilson and Harris grades—and, indeed, their play—have been superior to Diggs through six weeks, it isn’t like either have played out of their minds in their limited snaps like Tracy Walker did in 2018. They’ve both played alright, but not great. I think the Lions are thinking more that the drop off, if there is one, won’t be very large rather than moving on from Diggs represents an improvement.
Which brings me back around to the biggest complaint for this trade. Quandre Diggs was a team captain and loved locker room figure, and we already know this didn’t play well with the other secondary guys. If, however, this trade had happened after the 2019 season, I don’t think it would have been met with nearly as much universal derision. The Detroit Lions had already signalled that he might not be in their long-term plans after drafting Will Harris in the third round this season, and with how they’ve split time among the safeties this was a logical possible end to his time in Detroit. If his play continued through 2019 the way it has been, I feel the defensive backs in the room would understand the business aspect of a move on from someone respected enough to be team captain.
The problem, then, is in the timing more than anything. If Diggs plays like he has through the start of this season through its conclusion and then the Lions traded him, I believe we’re all praising Bob Quinn for being able to get something out of a declining player. Such a trade probably doesn’t anger the locker room, and since his successor has played better, I think fans buy into the idea of someone else taking the reigns, similar to when Tracy Walker succeeded Glover Quin.
With an in-season trade, we’re all left wondering if Diggs could have returned to form. Harris hasn’t played well enough to feel comfortable with the move on its face, and with only a day three pick (referred to as “basically nothing” by most people), it seems like a poor, rather than prudent, move by the general manager. Harris has showed enough promise to give Lions hope, but at 2-3-1 right now Lions fans probably want something more tangible than just hope. Like all trades, only time will tell if it was a good move or a poor one, but right now my thought is that it’s ultimately the right move at the wrong time.