The Detroit Lions have just thrown this season in the trash.
Is that harsh? Yeah, you bet it’s harsh.
Sorry, but there’s just no other way to explain Lions general manager Bob Quinn’s decision to trade their best receiver to the Philadelphia Eagles on Tuesday for a third-round pick in the 2019 NFL draft.
Golden Tate is gone. The Lions traded him away on an expiring contract for what? Hope for the future? A third-rounder is hardly a lock for greatness. Quinn drafted budding receiver Kenny Golladay in the third round, but that’s also where he drafted Tracy Walker, a part-time safety who played one defensive snap Sunday.
What about the present? The Lions are 3-4, but they’re 1-0 in the NFC North and trail the division-leading Chicago Bears (4-3) by just one game with more than half the season left. Who’s going to make up for Tate’s high production?
The only player who can even come close to replicating what Tate does is running back Theo Riddick, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury. And don’t you dare start salivating about the Brandon Powell era. An undrafted free agent with one offensive snap under his belt is not replacing a Pro Bowler.
This is the kind of move that incites anger. Just when you thought the Lions were starting to show some promise, they undercut themselves. The Lions have been selling fans on the future and promising them a better tomorrow for 60 years.
What about the present? The Lions got off to a rocky start under Matt Patricia. But just when they were starting to show some promise with a couple of big wins under their belt and made a trade to upgrade their run defense, they made a trade to downgrade their offense, which is the team’s strength.
How does that make any sense? How is that not seen as scuttling all hope? And right before the Lions start a crucial four-game stretch that features three division matchups — all winnable, by the way.
Quinn and Patricia had better be 100-percent certain about this trade. And they had better do an amazing job explaining it to the players. I’ve covered the Lions a long time, and I can tell you that this is the kind of move that can undermine players’ trust.
Two weeks ago, the Lions were trending upward. They beat the Miami Dolphins for their first road win, then traded a fifth-round draft pick for nose tackle Damon (Snacks) Harrison. All the players were excited.
Then the Lions laid a big egg at home Sunday and lost, 28-14, to the Seattle Seahawks. The next day, All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay didn’t want to believe it. He didn’t want to accept the Lions are 3-4. He said the Lions were still in good position and “we should have been the ones running away already (with the division lead).”
“We should be 6-1, in my opinion,” he said.
It’s actually not that far-fetched. Other than the season-opening 48-17 blowout loss to the New York Jets, the Lions lost on the road to the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys by a combined five points.
Whether the Lions could have beaten Seattle is debatable. But you could understand Slay’s point of view since the Lions led, 7-0, and gave up two quick touchdowns after Ameer Abdullah’s kickoff-return fumble gave the Seahawks the ball at the Detroit 34-yard line.
The subtext of Slay’s statement is what’s most important: He believes in this team’s potential. Or at least he did before Tuesday.
A couple of hours before the trade, I asked Patricia on a conference call whether he agreed with Slay that the Lions should be 6-1.
“I think it’s good that we fully expect to go into every single game trying to win,” Patricia said. “That’s our goal. That’s what we’re always trying to do each and every week that we come work. We’re trying to get better and we’re trying to win. Like I said, we just have a big challenge in front of us this week.”
After the trade, I’m not sure how Patricia can honestly say the Lions are “trying to get better” and “trying to win” after trading away Tate. How is he going to sell that in the locker room to players like Slay?
On Wednesday, players will talk to reporters about the trade. The universal refrain you will hear, as players try to divorce themselves from their emotions, is: “This is a business.”
The NFL certainly is that. But it’s also a lot more. It’s an emotional game that requires great sacrifice. It’s as much a fight for yardage as it is a battle for hearts and minds. It’s also a transient game with high roster turnover each season. I have no idea how Quinn and Patricia are going to explain to this year’s team how getting rid of Tate for a draft pick next year makes them better this season. Because it doesn’t.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.
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