Tears streamed down Quandre Diggs' face as the Seahawks safety was carted off the field with less than a quarter left in the 2021 season.
Over the course of 16-plus games, Diggs had put together a second-straight Pro-Bowl season, and he was minutes away from an offseason that would see him become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career, and then, as he described it, "I heard my leg when it broke, and you don't know how long the recovery is."
Not knowing the significance of the injury in the moment, knowing that "my family was more worried about me than anything," and realizing that the inevitable rehab that followed would mean less offseason time to play with his 2-year-old daughter, Ariya, Diggs was devastated as he left State Farm Stadium late in an eventual Seahawks win over the Cardinals.
Two weeks removed from the injury and the surgery that followed, however, Diggs' spirits are high, both because of the support he has felt from friends, family and fans since the injury, and also because the injury, while significant, was not as bad as he feared it might have been in the moment. Diggs did dislocate his ankle and fracture his fibula late in that Week 18 win, injuries that required a surgery that was performed in Green Bay two days after the injury, but the injuries aren't ones that should affect his availability for the 2022 season.
"I've been through injuries before, I've been through offseason rehabs before, so for me it's just another obstacle that I'll push through and get through and come back better," Diggs said. "I've got a broken bone; it's not like I tore an ACL or Achilles or anything. I've got a broken leg, and with my ankle it's just the same as if I would have had ankle surgery—guys get ankle surgery every offseason. It's just one of those things, a four to five-month recovery where, by the time training camp rolls around, I'll be 100 percent ready to go."
Diggs' positive mindset has been buoyed these past two-plus weeks since the injury by a number of factors, from the outpouring of support that came from fans, teammates and players around the league immediately after the injury, to the support of his teammates and family, to the surprise birthday party his girlfriend threw for him this past weekend, one that was attended by teammates Tyler Lockett and Marquise Blair, who made the trip to Dallas for the occasion.
"I'm blessed, man. I played the most snaps in the NFL in the regular season this year," Diggs said. "I've got great people around me, great family, great friends. I just celebrated a birthday—my girlfriend threw me a big surprise birthday party. I have a lot of positivity around me, and I have a lot of great people around me, so for me, there's no need to really stress when I've already handled everything I can handle on my side of things. So I've just got to bounce back."
The immediate reaction to the injury from players around the league—whether in the form of social media well wishes, or an emotional postgame press conference by friend and former University of Texas teammate Adrian Phillips—provided a good reminder of just how respected and loved Diggs is as both a player and a person, not just in his own locker room, but also around the league. And while Diggs would gladly have traded that outpouring of love for a healthy offseason, he did appreciate all of the recognition.
"It's big being able to know you have the respect around the league from your peers, those guys look at you as one of the best in the world and they respect you for just being a real guy, being who I am every day," he said. "That's the dope part for me, that's all I've ever wanted in this league is just to be respected by my peers and be respected by my coaches. I've never cared about the accomplishments and all of that, but being respected, that's all you can ask for in your career."
And for anyone who has followed the Seahawks since Diggs arrived in Seattle in a 2019 trade, it came as no surprise that no one was there for Diggs quite like teammate and longtime friend Tyler Lockett.
Lockett and Diggs knew of each other in high school due to a friendship between Diggs' brother, Quintin Jammer, and Lockett's uncle, Aaron Lockett, then they were competitors in college, facing each other in the Big 12, and through those connections they eventually formed a close friendship that only grew when they became teammates in Seattle.
After Seattle's win in Arizona, Lockett was one of a handful of teammates who asked if he could stay behind with Diggs rather than fly back to Seattle with the team. Riding in a rental car with a member of the team's PR staff, Lockett went from the stadium to the hospital to be with Diggs, then joined Diggs for the trip to Green Bay for the surgery.
"Lock stayed throughout the surgery," Diggs said. "We were going to move our flights, and he was moving his flight to stay as long as we were going to stay. That's just the type of dude he is."
The fact that Lockett did stay behind, postponing the start of his offseason, and that other players inquired about doing so, "speaks to the culture Pete (Carroll) brought to Seattle, how tight-knit we are as a team." And Lockett's actions were just another reminder of why his teammates voted him the team's Steve Largent Award winner in 2021, and why he was also the team's nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award.
"His heart has been so big this year, he has done so much, and has been so thoughtful about making gestures, inspiring our players to come up with stuff," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of Lockett. "… He's just connected to so many things that have happened this season that were pretty amazing. He had a great year again. What a remarkable person."
On the decision to stay back with his friend and teammate, Lockett said after the game in Arizona, "That's my brother. But I don't really think I'm doing anything that he wouldn't have done for me. I think that if the shoe was on the other foot, I think that that'd be the same thing that he would do for me. That's my best friend; that's my brother. We train together, we went back and forth in college together, we're fortunate enough to be able to play on the same team. So like I said, I'm doing exactly what I think that he would have done for me."
Of course, the big question now for Diggs is what will happen this spring with regards to his future. Diggs is set to become a free agent when the new league year begins, and while the Seahawks hope to have him back, there's sure to be a market for a player coming off back-to-back Pro-Bowl seasons in which he recorded 10 interceptions, tied for the most by a safety in the NFL over the past two seasons.
Diggs said there's "no question" he'd like to be back in Seattle, but as aways there is a business side to the decision, especially for a player hitting free agency for the first time at the age of 29.
"No question (I want to be back)," he said. "If we can make it work and it works out for both sides, and I feel fairly compensated knowing that I'm a two-time Pro-Bowler, (received) All-Pro votes, and one of the best, if not the best free safety in the NFL—I have to be compensated as well, and I feel like I did everything the right way to be compensated as well. If it works out and they say they want to do it, let's get it done."
Seahawks.com reporter John Boyle reflects on the 2021 season and hands out some Seahawks 2021 Season Honors.