Allen Park — In a vacuum, Detroit Lions offensive Taylor Decker could have ignored the talk radio, internet and social media chatter. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and the negative commentary that percolated during the two months he was sidelined by injury seeped into every aspect of his life.
His friends sent him articles, his neighbors asked him about it when he was walking the dog, but when speculation he could be traded by the Detroit Lions reached his parents and he had to address their concerns, it was more than Decker could handle.
“Frankly I feel like the narrative of negativity surrounding my name, all year pretty much, has been (b.s),” Decker said on Monday, the day after he returned to the Lions’ lineup and played all 71 offensive snaps against the Steelers. “I don’t feel like it’s been deserved. I do feel like people within the building, and I do feel like a lot of fans, appreciate me and what I can do for this team. But yeah, the media pretty much all year has been pretty negative around me. I’m not going to act like I like that. I think it was (b.s.). I’ve played a lot of football here and I think I’ve played well. That’s that.”
A first-round draft pick in 2016, Decker immediately entered the starting lineup as rookie. And during the past five years, he’s been both productive and durable. He missed the first half of the 2017 season with an offseason shoulder surgery, but rebounded well enough to earn a four-year, $60 million extension from the club last offseason.
Decker started 55 of the past 56 games entering this season before suffering another injury in practice. This time, it was a finger days before the season opener, which required surgery.
With minimal details provided by the team, some didn’t understand how could a finger shut down a football player for months. These are supposed to be some of the toughest men on the planet. But people asking those questions fail to realize how important grip is for Decker’s position. Unlike many players, offensive linemen experience contact and collisions nearly every snap, with their hands leading the way.
“Just anybody who works with their hands, the surgeon told me it would be about three months before I would regain strength and mobility in my hand, and obviously I tried to come back earlier than that,” Decker said. “… Having your hand is really important, and if you have one finger that’s not functional and you have to cast it with a second one, and then you only have a ring finger and a pinky to grab people that are 275 pounds and run a 4.6, that’s hard to do.”
For the first time since suffering the injury, Decker explained what happened, calling it a full-spiral fracture. It ended up requiring a plate and five screws to correct. Then, during his first practice back last month, he suffered another injury to the hand.
“I tried to come back early and my hand was casted up, and I played one play of practice with the team and did something to the UCL joint in the knuckle,” he said. “But we couldn’t see it on the MRI because there’s so much metal in there that you couldn’t read the MRI.
“My hand blew up, it was very swollen, I lost a lot of mobility that I had gained in my hand, so then at that point, it’s like, ‘All right, we need to let this thing calm down and then we’ll try again and get you back out there,'” Decker continued. “That’s what we did, and I think that was the smart thing to do, instead of trying to rush it, because when I went back and saw the surgeon, she said I should probably give it a couple weeks or I could cause permanent damage or break it again.”
And just as he was irked by the trade speculation, Decker was equally if not more bothered by rumblings that he was milking the injury.
“They told me three months, and I’m playing at two months,” he said. “I did everything I could to get back out on the field, and frankly, it was insulting people acted like I just didn’t want to play and wanted to be out for the entire season.”
Decker still doesn’t have full mobility or grip strength, but he found it adequate to return to action. And both he and Dan Campbell was happy with his performance against the Steelers, despite some to-be-expected rust as the veteran works to get his timing back.
Now, he’s eager to quiet those who doubted him and propel the narrative back to where it was entering the season, that his unit, the offensive line, could the the strength of the roster.
“I think the narrative should be that our O-line can be really, really good,” Decker said. “… 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 kinda ridiculous.
“Like I said, I think people in this building and a lot of the fanbase appreciates me and I do think they know what I can bring to the table. But for some reason, and I’m not saying it was 100% of the media, but a lot of the media was hammering this narrative of basically to get rid of me when I want to be here and I want to help turn this organization into a winning organization. I’ve said that from day one and I’ve never faltered on that and I’ll never understand why.”