Quandre Diggs was taking a nap with his baby girl.
Then his phone, not his little daughter Ariya Marie, began to wail.
“I kept getting phone calls,” the former Detroit Lions’ team captain said Wednesday, one day after the only NFL team he’d known sent him away, out of nowhere. “I got on the phone with my agent, and he’s like ‘You are headed to Seattle.’
“I’m like, ‘I’m asleep. I ain’t headed to Seattle. Whatchu mean? It’s an off day.’
“I was blindsided by it, quite honestly.”
It’s not every day an NFL team trades one of its co-captains and veteran starters for the relatively low return of a fifth-round draft choice a year after giving him a rich, long-term extension.
But that’s what Detroit did to their starting safety for the last three seasons on Tuesday. They sent him to a Seahawks team that needs front-line safeties, pronto. As in, for Sunday’s game at Atlanta.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he couldn’t believe Diggs was available.
“It’s just tough when you are in the middle of the season, middle of the grind with your guys,” Diggs said of his great friends on the Lions. “I could see if it was something that you expected. But when it comes out of nowhere, it’s tough.”
Tougher than the crash course in Xs and Os of a new defense that Diggs was already deep into Wednesday.
Diggs and Abby Evans, his girlfriend of six years, met in Austin when he was attending and playing for the University of Texas. They have a three-month-old daughter. That’s the little girl Diggs was napping with when his world turned upside down Tuesday afternoon.
Evans and little Ariya Marie remain, for now, back in the Detroit area. Diggs’ girlfriend is trying to take care of the family matters.
Try being 26 years old thinking your life was relatively set, beaming about your new, growing family—then getting a phone call out of nowhere from your employer telling you to leave your baby girl, her mother and your best friends immediately. Oh, and to go, right now, across the country, to what to you is basically a foreign land, 2,400 miles away.
That ain’t fantasy football.
Diggs said, “I became a better version of myself” the last couple of years with the Lions. He said that being a father has been the ultimate step in that self-improvement.
“Ah, it’s made me a better person, a better...a better everything, man,” he said of Ariya Marie. “She means everything to me.
“You know, it was tough leaving her yesterday. I think that was probably the hardest part of my day, just leaving her and my girlfriend, knowing that I was...supposed to be spending my days with them.
“But when work calls, you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. They understand.
“Oh, yeah, they’ll be out here. You will see them at the games.”
So while the Seahawks and their fans will concern themselves with Diggs’ fit into Seattle’s defense between strong and free safety, with his need to learn the defense in three practices to play the Falcons Sunday, Diggs also will have other, more fundamentally important things on his mind.
His adjustment is going to go on for the foreseeable future, too. Seattle is inheriting the two years beyond this season Diggs has left on his contract, with $8.35 million in base salaries in 2020 and ‘21. That’s from the $18.6 million extension he signed with Detroit in September 2018. You know, the deal that led him and his girlfriend to believe he’d be a new dad in Michigan, not Washington.
But Diggs has been around enough to know this is a business. And the Seahawks need his business right now.
Detroit drafted him in the sixth round out of Texas in 2015. He was a cornerback then. Diggs has been a strong safety lately, a deeper free safety and inside nickel defensive back opposite slot wide receivers in his five seasons in the NFL.
“I’m versatile, man,” he said.
That versatility, plus Diggs’ reputation as a hard hitter and sure tackler and his renown in Detroit as a locker-room leader of the highest character are why Carroll said the Seahawks “are lucky to get him.” Seattle loves to use its strong and free safeties interchangeably, sometimes by the snap.
Where will Diggs play Sunday against the flailing Falcons (1-6), who may be without 2016 NFL MVP quarterback Matt Ryan because of his ankle injury?
“He’ll wind up playing free safety and strong safety. He will play both for us, in time,” Carroll said. “We will start him out where we can fit him in best. You’ll see, in time, on that one.”
Sounds and looks like it will be Sunday.
Starting strong safety Bradley McDougald missed another practice with back spasms he’s had for more than a week now, though he did some light stretching, jogging and played catch with teammate Shaquill Griffin at the start of Wednesday’s drills. Carroll said the Seahawks don’t know when McDougald will be able to play again, that the medical staff is trying to fix the structural, root cause of the spasms.
Backup strong safety Lano Hill remains out indefinitely with an elbow injury. Marquise Blair impressed Carroll in his first NFL start last weekend against Baltimore, so much so Carroll said his rookie second-round draft choice is going to play more.
When asked if free safety Tedric Thompson’s repeated mistakes and misplays on the ball for huge plays against the defense were the reason the Seahawks acquired Diggs, Carroll said no. He said it was the injuries and uncertain recoveries of McDougald and Hill.
Defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. was asked Wednesday if McDougald can’t play again Sunday if he was seeking ways to get Diggs, Blair and Thompson on the field at the same time in three-safety looks, or if someone is going to be the odd man out in Atlanta.
“We want to get the two best guys out there ready to roll,” Norton said.
“At this level, it’s about performance. It’s about making plays. And everybody understands the situation.”
It appears both in words and recent play that the Seahawks are preparing Blair and Diggs to be their starting, interchangeable safeties Sunday in Atlanta.
However it settles, Diggs at least appears to be readying to start Sunday.
All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said he’s told Diggs not to worry about cramming every defensive call into his head this week, that Wagner will ensure his before-snap communication is so thorough he will give Diggs all he needs to know to play.
Wagner is basically telling Diggs, “I got you.”
The Lions players wished they still had Diggs. The force of the widespread dismay after Detroit traded their five-year veteran underlined how beloved he is in the Lions’ locker room.
Cornerback Darius Slay wrote on his Twitter feed “This some bull **** here:”
“It’s tough to leave those guys. I miss those guys. But, I guess that’s just how things go.
“Those are my guys,” he said of his Lions teammates, “for life.
“I’m going to miss those guys. I’m going to stay FaceTiming those guys, all the time, man.”
What explanation did Lions’ general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia give Diggs for the out-of-nowhere trade, a captain and a starter for a fifth-round pick?
“They said Seattle...Seattle...that they just wanted to send me to Seattle,” Diggs said. “The whole team-captain aspect, that’s tough, I worked my tail off for those guys in that locker room. And I’ve changed the way I went around my business around there.”
The Seahawks, not the Lions, now get the chance to reap the benefits of his maturity and experience. And they are so needy in the secondary they are willing to wait for him to ramp up into full effectiveness.
“It’s going to a process,” Diggs said. “I don’t have the OTA days; I don’t have the phase-I and phase-II days (of organized team activities) with these guys in the locker room. So, for me, I am trying to jump in with these guys in their game plan. ...
“It’s going to be on the run. And it’s my job to put in the work and get better, and also learn the system.
“I just want to fit in with the guys. I just want to earn the respect of my teammates. That’s always the most important thing to me. Make sure these guys know the type of player I am, the type of person I am.”
Diggs was listed as a limited participant in his first Seahawks practice because of a hamstring issue.
He started at strong safety for the Lions last weekend in their 42-30 home loss to Minnesota. He missed the previous week’s game at Green Bay with a hamstring strain he sustained in Detroit’s home loss to Kansas City in week four, before the Lions’ bye week.
So Wednesday appeared to be maintenance from that.
The Seahawks waived reserve guard Jordan Roos to get Diggs on the 53-man roster.
They promoted Roos from the practice squad Oct. 12, when reserve guard Ethan Pocic went on injured reserve.
He’s been with the team, mostly on the practice squad, since Seattle signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Purdue in May 2017.