There were no parties in the locker room when the Detroit Lions went out and traded for one of the best defensive tackles in football two weeks ago, and no prayer vigils or moments of silence when they dealt away their most productive receiver six days later.
For the Lions, just like for 31 other teams, it was business as usual in the NFL.
Players come and players go in this thing we call football.
Young guys. Journeymen. Players chasing unfulfilled dreams. And, yes, even, high-priced ones and impactful ones, guys like Damon Harrison and Golden Tate, who were responsible for the pendulum of emotion Lions fans felt before filling their bags on Halloween.
The Lions acquired Harrison from the New York Giants for a fifth-round pick, days before their Week 8 game against the Seattle Seahawks, then turned around and traded Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-rounder as they were preparing for Sunday’s showdown with the Minnesota Vikings.
One week, they’re gearing up for a playoff run. The next, after a revealing loss to Seattle, they’re throwing in the towel.
Except that’s not life in the NFL at all.
For players, for coaches, for so many others buried neck-deep in football, both trades were met with a shoulder shrug and move on.
Yes, adding Harrison helps the Lions, though that run defense clearly needs more work. And yes, losing Tate hurts. He was Matthew Stafford’s most trusted receiver on third down.
But collectively, the Lions are not all that much different today than they were a month ago, which means they’re still one of the most maddening teams around.
“Things happen every year, man,” safety Glover Quin said. “Like the Eagles won the Super Bowl last year, you think they felt that way when Carson Wentz got hurt? Like, it’s all over? Nah, they went out and played and they still won it. I mean, this stuff happens all the time. It just so happened it happened to us. And like I said, I think you guys read way too much into it.”
That hard-boiled approach is common in the NFL – in life, really – though it’s easy to forget when it comes to sports.
“There’s always a human element,” said former Lions great Chris Spielman, a Fox analyst who’ll broadcast Sunday’s Lions-Vikings game. “But I don’t think the human element lingers as much in the (locker room) as it does in (public) because your job is still on the line and your responsibility’s still on the line, so you can’t let it.
“I just think there’s a little bit more callousness in the locker room, just because – not because people are callous but because the situation calls for it. ‘OK, well, he’s gone. Next guy, let’s go. I’ll text him later.’”
That, Spielman said, was his mentality for 11 seasons, and it’s one several Lions said is still a reality in the NFL today.
“I miss Golden, he’s a great guy,” said tight end Luke Willson, who won a Super Bowl with Tate in Seattle then reunited with him this year in Detroit. “But I think for me, especially in Seattle, it was weird but my first few years I felt like everybody that I was really close with kind of ended up getting moved or getting released or whatever, so everybody in here that’s been around for a little bit kind of learns that the hard way, that guys that your close with (don’t always stick around).
“I know it’s cliché but it’s the truth. My job is to come, get my body ready, learn the playbook and get ready for Minnesota and that’s what I’m doing.”
Spielman said the cut-throat nature of the NFL teaches players to compartmentalize things early on.
In the Lions’ case, just as players are hired to fill a specific role on the team, Bob Quinn was brought in to make decisions as general manager. He has a vision, and as long as you’re a part of that vision as a player, you do what you can to keep it that way and don’t worry about who’s by your side.