RENTON, Wash. - Quandre Diggs' unceremonious exit from Detroit wasn't a pretty one. With his outspoken personality colliding with the demanding, domineering approach of coach Matt Patricia, the Lions shockingly jettisoned the team captain for only a fifth-round draft pick prior to the trade deadline nearly four years ago.
But as the star safety prepares to play at Ford Field for the first time since being traded to the Seahawks midway through the 2019 season on Sunday, he's excited to return to his old stomping grounds where he first made a name for himself.
“It’s always a special place for me. Even watching on film, just seeing the turf and seeing the fans in the stadium, it brings back memories of course," Diggs told reporters on Wednesday. "Detroit is what made me into who I am now, so I’m forever grateful for my opportunity. It will be great to see some good friends. Hopefully, I can see my training staff that was out there, those guys, the equipment guys, and all of that. It will be different walking down that tunnel as a visitor, but it is what it is. I’m here now, I’m blessed, and I think it will be super, super dope."
Overlooked in the draft process after a strong college career at a powerhouse program in Texas, Diggs didn't hear his name called in the 2015 NFL Draft until the Lions took a chance on him in the sixth round with the 200th overall selection. After playing cornerback for the Longhorns, he started his professional career primarily working out of the slot in nickel packages, registering 82 tackles and seven passes defensed in his first two seasons.
By the end of his third season, however, Diggs began his transition to safety and thrived at the position in coordinator Teryl Austin's defense. In a breakout year, he stuffed the stat sheet while earning a career-best 11 starts, registering 51 tackles, three interceptions, and five tackles for loss, quickly becoming an important part of the Lions' future.
Shortly before the start of the 2018 season, Diggs signed a lucrative three-year extension and he rewarded the organization for their investment in him with another strong season, producing 71 tackles and three interceptions while being named a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time.
Unfortunately, despite his contributions on the field and standing in the locker room, Diggs became expendable in the eyes of Patricia, who didn't appreciate his candidness and viewed it as an antithesis to what he expected from his players. Much to the chagrin of several other prominent stars on the roster, then-general manager Bob Quinn dealt him to the Seahawks, who had been keeping tabs on him from afar for some time.
Never afraid to bring unique personalities aboard, when the opportunity to acquire a talented young player and leader of Diggs' caliber presented itself, coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider jumped at the chance to trade for him.
“He had played a lot of nickel. He played a lot of coverage stuff as well as always being a big hitter. It was really his aggressiveness that singled him out," Carroll said when asked what initially stood out about Diggs as a player. "He’s always been such a tremendous accelerator to the contact. It just jumps off the film at you. We had heard also about his character and his role on their team, and we thought it was a pretty exciting opportunity in that regard too. And we find out that it was maybe understated."
Two Pro Bowls and a new three-year, $40 million contract extension later, acquiring Diggs in exchange for what amounted to a few bags of peanuts stands out as one of the best theft jobs in franchise history.
Since arriving in Seattle, few players have been more productive than Diggs, who got off to a fast start intercepting three passes in his first five games with his new team. Ironically, one of those picks was returned for a touchdown against quarterback Jared Goff, who will be under center for Detroit on Sunday after being traded by the Los Angeles Rams prior to the 2021 season.
Along with leading the team with five interceptions in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Diggs has been a force as a run defender and limiting yardage after the catch as a well, amassing 158 tackles in a two-year span. Finally receiving the recognition he long deserved as the only defender in the NFL with three or more interceptions in each of the past five seasons, he earned back-to-back Pro Bowl nods and received a handful of All-Pro votes last year.
What's been the secret for Diggs' sustained success? After bouncing around at multiple positions early in his career, while that versatility served him well carving out a role in Detroit, he's been able to focus solely on safety and the game has "slowed down" as a result. Playing for quality coaches such as Carroll with an organization that embraces individuality, he's been able to be himself and that's helped him perform at his very best.
"I think being here, being with Pete [Carroll], being with my former coach Andre Curtis, and now with Karl Scott and Sean [Desai], I kind of get to stick in one spot," Diggs remarked. "I play the game and it’s a battle between me and the quarterback. I feel like anything across the middle, we should be able to affect that. I’ve grown so much being here and mentally, I’m in a better headspace here. I think it’s just that when you are able to be yourself, you can be a full player and you don’t have to hide who you are."
In retrospect, while Carroll and his assistants deserve credit for taking his game to the next level, Diggs also recognizes he likely wouldn't be where he's at now without the support he received early in his career from a different regime in Detroit.
Time heals all wounds, and though his final year and a half with the Lions weren't enjoyable for obvious reasons, Diggs has numerous people from the organization to thank for helping him transform from a late-round afterthought into one of the league's premier safeties. And, as he eagerly awaits the chance to play in front of his former hometown fans, he has plenty of fond memories to look back upon.
"Detroit went and took a shot on a sixth-round guy out of Texas, so I might not have been me, I might not be who I am today. I’m blessed for the Ford family, Jim Caldwell, and that coaching staff, that’s what made me."
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