Whenever a puzzling move like Tuesday’s trade of Quandre Diggs hits the transaction wire, it’s always important to look at all of the factors surrounding the decision. On the surface, this is a confusing move: Diggs was a Pro Bowl alternate last year, was extremely well-liked in the locker room, provided depth in the secondary, and afforded Detroit the luxury of bringing along rookie safety Will Harris slowly instead of throwing him to the wolves.
So when the move doesn’t make a ton of football sense—especially in the middle of the season—maybe it makes some financial sense. Let’s take a closer look at the financial side of this transactions, because as the players often say, “It’s a business.”
How much was Quandre Diggs costing the Lions?
Here’s a look at the cap hits for Diggs (before the trade) and how that ranked among all NFL safeties:
2019: $5.38 million (17th)
2020: $6.325 million (19th)
2021: $6.675 million (16th)
What does that mean?
For a starting caliber safety, Diggs was quite affordable. This year was obviously a big spike in cap hit from his $2.16 million number from last year, but his play in the past certainly warranted it. His cap wasn’t going to come close to hitting the top 10, and when you consider the deals that safeties are going to get in the future, he may not even be in the top 20 in both 2020 and 2021.
Whether his current level of play was worth it is up for debate, though.
How much are the Lions saving?
In the immediate, not that much. According to the NFL cap experts over at Spotrac, here’s the yearly breakdown:
2019 cleared space: $1.6 million
2020: $3.4 million
2021: $7.34 million
What does that mean?
Well, it means this isn’t a move the Lions made to create cap space to make a huge trade at the deadline. The Lions already had plenty of cap space before this. According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Lions were 11th in the league with $18.9 million in cap space prior to this move. The additional $1.6 million does little to change this team’s capabilities at the trade deadline.
That being said, the move does clear up considerable space in the future. As you may remember this offseason, many of Detroit’s signings were extremely backloaded. Take a look:
Combined cap hit of Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman, Jesse James:— Pride of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) March 18, 2019
Are you concerned about this long-term cap management? @DetroitOnLion offers his thoughts: https://t.co/FydcHxEEws
The Diggs’ trade certainly provides a significant amount of long-term relief, and it also opens up the possibility of the Lions starting extension talks with a couple players that have been neglected, including A’Shawn Robinson, Darius Slay and Graham Glasgow.
With both Will Harris and Tracy Walker on rookie deals for the next few years, this is a move that certainly makes some long-term financial sense.
But why now?
When looking at the financial impact of the move, the biggest question that comes to mind is why now? As our own Kent Lee Platte noted earlier in the day, this move makes some football sense, but to do it in the middle of the season is risking a locker room mutiny at an already difficult time in the season. With little financial benefit of a midseason trade, the optics look even worse.
There are a few reasons to do it now, however. First is the compensation from the Seahawks. I hate to say it, but a fifth-round pick* may be the most this team could have possibly gotten for Diggs, and that probably would have been dropped to a sixth or seventh rounder in the offseason. Remember, this is a team that couldn’t find a trade partner for Eric Ebron a few years ago.
Additionally, this tells me that something else is going on. I’m not going to speculate on what, but if you read between the lines on social media, there was some not-so-subtle tension between Diggs and management. You don’t post something like this:
(Reminder: Quentin Jammer is Quandre Diggs’ brother.)
This isn’t put out there right after being traded unless there was something you wanted to get off your chest. There’s also the fact that the Bob Quinn didn’t release an official statement like he did almost immediately after the Golden Tate trade last year, and there’s the interesting detail that Diggs thanked fans, teammates and the owners in his farewell, but didn’t say a word about management and coaches.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this. Maybe there are some real in-season benefits of making the move now, like getting rookie safety Will Harris’ feet wet. But when you follow the money and the timing, this move only becomes even more curious, and I can’t help but wonder if we’ll ever hear the real story.