Taylor Decker is proud of the resume he's built in his tenure with the Lions. Especially in the last two seasons, the 2016 first-round pick has established himself as a team leader and one of the better left tackles in the NFL. There's a reason he's making $15 million per year.
This season, Decker was supposed to be one of the forces of one of the best offensive lines in football. Then he fractured his finger a few days before the season opener, then rookie Penei Sewell started to thrive in Decker's stead and then fans and media alike wondered whether the rebuilding Lions would be better off trading Decker for draft picks and letting Sewell play his natural position after installing the seventh overall pick at right tackle this summer.
And Decker didn't appreciate it. A proven NFL player who's said he wants to spend his entire career in Detroit didn't appreciate the headlines and chatter rushing him out of town.
"Frankly, I feel like the narrative of negativity surrounding my name, all year pretty much, has been bullsh*t," Decker said Monday after making his season debut in the Lions' tie to the Steelers. "I don’t feel like it’s been deserved. I do feel like people within the building and a lot fans appreciate me and what I can do for this team. But the media pretty much all year has been pretty negative around me, so I’m not going to act like I liked that. I think it was bullsh*t. I’ve played a lot of football here and I think I’ve played well. So that’s that."
Decker said he caught wind of the chatter from friends and family, because "I don't go (on social media) and search for myself." He said he was especially upset that he had to soothe his parents' concerns that the Lions were going to trade him after saying multiple times in the past few years that he wants to help turn the team around.
"Having my parents call me concerned and upset, and my friends and my family and people in my neighborhood that I see outside when I'm walking my dogs, just having to deal with all that -- when as far as I understand, there was zero possibility of me not being a Detroit Lion this year -- that was just really frustrating," Decker said. "And I feel like a lot of those articles are being written for clicks and being grandiose and over the top.
"I don’t understand and never will understand why there was so much negativity surrounding me and my name. I don't feel like it was deserved whatsoever."
Decker said the Lions never gave him a reason to fear a trade. He said they never told him he'd play anything but left tackle upon his return, as was the case Sunday in Pittsburgh. He's under contract through 2024 after signing a four-year, $60 million extension last September that makes him one of the NFL's 10 highest-paid left tackles -- compensation befitting his performance. Decker went most of last season without allowing a sack while facing top pass rushers every week. He graded out as the 11th best tackle in football, according to Pro Football Focus.
The logic for trading him: you're a young team team with precious few pieces to build around. The logic against it: Decker is one of them. An established, 28-year-old left tackle is more valuable than a few extra lottery tickets in the draft.
"We are in a high-performance business and we get compensated well for what we do. So are we going to be scrutinized? Absolutely, 100 percent," Decker said. "But I hadn’t played a snap this season and over the past few years I played at I would say a pretty high level. So I just was like, where is this coming from? I think the narrative should be that our O-line can be really, really good. It’s just frustrating. Not that I’m concerned, because never in my mind was there a possibility of me not being a Detroit Lion, but people that care about me get concerned about it. I shouldn’t have to talk to my parents about whether the team and the city that has become my home is going to trade me or get rid of me. I shouldn’t have to talk about that. I just think it’s ridiculous.
"Like said, I think people in this building and a lot of the fan base appreciates me and they know what I can bring to the table. But for some reason, and I’m not saying it was 100 percent of the media, but a lot of the media were just hammering, hammering this narrative to get rid of me, when I want to be here and I want to help turn this organization into a winning organization. And I’ve said that from day one and I’ve never faltered on that."
Decker said he was also insulted by insinuations that he was content sitting out when he missed the first eight games of the season due to his injured finger, which basically rendered his left hand useless. He said he actually returned to action about a month ahead of doctors' projections.
"I had a full spiral fracture that rotated and shortened and had to get five screws and a plate put in my hand. They told me three months and I’m playing at two months," he said. "I did everything I could to try to get back on the field. Frankly, it was also insulting that people acted like I just didn’t want to play and wanted to be out for the entire season."
Decker originally tried to return ahead of the Lions' Week 6 loss to the Bengals, but suffered a setback in his first day of practice and "lost all the mobility that I had gained in my hand." He said his surgeon told him to give it rest "or you could cause permanent damage or break it again."
"If you have one finger that’s not functional, then you have to cast it with a second one, and then you only have a ring finger and a pinky to grab people who are 275 pounds that run a 4.6. That’s hard to do," Decker said. "That’s hard to do. Even yesterday, my hand’s not at 100 percent yet. It’s tough. You need to be healthy to play NFL football. Everybody’s banged up, but when it’s a legitimate injury and I’m told a timeline by a surgeon, I’m going to go with the timeline from the surgeon."
As for his performance Sunday against the Steelers, Decker said it was "solid."
"Obviously having not played a game this year, it wasn’t my best," he said. "But it was solid, something to build on moving forward."
And as far as Decker's concerned, moving forward with the Lions.