Before I get into this article I want to make it clear that I LOVED Stefon Diggs. I was the first person in Vikings media to call him the steal of the draft years ago, as I had heard great things from Maryland fans (and as they’d just joined the Big Ten, my bias perhaps shined through a bit). He stayed my favorite player since joining the team, which may not come as a surprise to those of you who follow my work, as I’m a child of the Randy Moss/Cris Carter era and thus love me some wide receivers. So, you have a hyper-talented player from a Big Ten school (retroactively or otherwise) who plays my favorite position?
Seems like a match made in heaven.
As a child of the Moss era, I have always had the mindset that it’s the head coaches job in the NFL to deal with personalities and off the field nonsense, as outside of something morally reprehensible like domestic assault or child abuse, little things off the field, especially those that don’t distract the rest of the team, shouldn’t be enough to trade away once in a generation talent for pennies on the dollar.
Sure, Randy Moss was traded for the 7th-overall pick and a linebacker who was named and played like he was actually Napoleon, as well as a 7th-round pick. Which means that the Vikings got more for Diggs than they did for Moss, who was light years better than Diggs at nearly everything (and for the record, did about 5% of the type of stuff Diggs has been doing for far too long).
That’s really the only positive here, but it isn’t the only parallel between the two receivers.
After Moss was traded it really wasn’t until they drafted Diggs (and subsequently signed and developed Adam Thielen) that they’d really found another answer at the position. Some may say that the 2009 year Sidney Rice counts, or the Percy Harvin era, even. But, the truth is that they tried multiple times to replace Moss and they failed every time until they spent a fifth-rounder on an oft-injured and mercurial receiver from the East Coast.
Think about that.
A full decade elapsed before the Vikings were able to bounce back at the position they just weakened to the point that you have to wonder why they extended quarterback Kirk Cousins at all. When you throw in the fact that it feels like the Vikings new GM is Thanos after he gets the Time Stone, snapping his fingers and essentially dusting half the Vikings starters on defense (as well as any hope that they’d bounce back) and like the start of ‘Avengers: Endgame’ essentially requiring us to all wait five years for any sort of hope, and it’s really worth asking how the hell we got here in the first place.
I don’t mean in terms of the salary cap or the complete dismantling of the defense Zimmer and Spielman spent over half-a-decade and a ton of draft and real capital building, but in terms of the team letting Diggs go two years into an extension that would’ve had him here through the 2023 season.
I wrote about Diggs’ antics during the amazing overtime win over the heavily favored New Orleans Saints in what feels like a lifetime ago. In that, I tried to look at every facet of why Diggs may have been upset, and spoiler alert, I found no legitimate reason for his helmet throw.
I’m sure some are asking whether or not that sort of behavior is ever warranted and I would argue that, yes, it can be. The infamous Randy Moss walk-off against the Redskins with 2.6 seconds left on the clock was, in my estimation, the perfect example of that. The Vikings were in the midst of the second collapse in as many seasons, with the team starting the previous season 6-0 but missing the playoffs, mostly due to an incredible lack of investment in the team in general but the defense in particular by owner Red McCombs. That season the Vikes had started 5-1, and were yet again on the precipice of failing to make it to the post-season.
Diggs’ outburst had nowhere near anything resembling that sort of selfless protest. The Vikings were IN a playoff game and not only that, they were winning at the time of his helmet throw. Perhaps he thought that he deserved more balls thrown his way, and that the lack of output from that lack of attention was hurting his pocketbook, but the Vikings had given him a deal that was perhaps the most disproportionate of any in the league in terms of actual statistics vs. dollars. I mean, Diggs’ best season came in 2019 and he had only 1,100 yards. Hardly Randy Moss level stuff.
Despite that, though, the Vikings rewarded Diggs with that deal because of his potential and because of the admission that the team had been going through a quarterback and offensive coordinator rotating door situation essentially every season and a half during Diggs’ career. Sure, Diggs was the most dangerous deep threat in the NFL in 2019. Sure, I, again loved Diggs and thought that the money was warranted. Point being, though, that he was getting the type of contract he had to be happy with.
Really, the only thing I can think of, is that he thought that he should be getting the types of numbers an Antonio Brown had at his peak. Brown and Diggs are remarkably similar receivers on (and now off) the field, and perhaps in Diggs’ mind he thought that his endorsement deals were being limited by the fact that he was essentially playing second fiddle to Adam Thielen.
Wait… We may have stumbled onto something here. His name? Adam Thielen.
In Cousins’ first eight regular-season games with the Vikings he and Thielen showed that they had tremendous chemistry. That might be underselling it, as Thielen broke NFL records by starting the season with a string of 100-yard efforts. Any other receiver in Diggs’ position would’ve realized that he was a major part of that streak, as time and time again opposing defenses schemed to stop Diggs and his ability to score from nearly anywhere on the field, leaving Thielen single covered.
People may blame Cousins, as both Diggs and Thielen voiced their frustration with the quarterback after the disaster that was the Week 4 game against the Bears. But after that, things began to click and when Thielen went down with a hamstring in 2020, Diggs had his best season in the NFL with Cousins executing at a level we haven’t seen from the quarterback position since Favre in 2009.
Not to mention that his two best years with Cousins at the helm, but 1,000 yard efforts and despite having less yardage in 2018, he had 102 grabs. He also had his best yards per catch average, by far, in 2019. His grabs dropped, but with Thielen gone and the line made of paper mache, Diggs was double and tripled a lot. Moss would’ve still got his, though. But, despite the near 40% drop in grabs Diggs still had the most yardage of his career.
Imagine if Cousins actually had time? Or an offensive coordinator with the pedigree of Gary Kubiak (who has some experience using two elite receivers)? Or if Diggs wasn’t an egomaniac who just cried himself into a corner?
So, yeah. How didn’t he like Cousins?
But I get that the timing between Diggs’ trade and Cousins’ two-year extension may also imply that Diggs no longer wanted Cousins throwing him the ball, but does he really think that Josh Allen is going to be able to hit him down the field like Cousins (who is one of the best in the league in terms of down the field accuracy)?
Of course not.
He just wants to be THE guy. Perhaps that’s because, in today’s NFL, players can make more money off the field than on it. But how, then, doesn’t he see that his behavior off the field is actually what is hurting that potential? His interaction with fans, his “poor me” behavior, in general, but especially during a time of worldwide panic over COVID-19 and the massive impact that is having on the economy, people’s lives, their jobs, all of it, should make any potential sponsor stay FAR away from Diggs. Throw in the parallels between him and the now-disgraced Antonio Brown, and it’s not hard to see why major brands wouldn’t want a brat at best and a narcissist that is one or two bad seasons away from a Brownian meltdown like Diggs representing what they do.
Can you blame them?
The Vikings treated Diggs perfectly. They paid him a massive contract despite his sub-1,000 yard seasons (up until that point) and the fact that he had missed multiple games in every season, also up until that point. They put up with A LOT from him, both on the field and off. They broke the bank to bring in some consistency at the quarterback position, which is how Diggs got to the 1,000-yard mark in the first place. But NOW he’s upset?
This is a Stefon Diggs who had the most famous play in perhaps the past decade in the NFL in the Minneapolis Miracle, so if he didn’t get the level of sponsor interest he wanted after that then I highly doubt him being exiled to Buffalo will somehow make him a nationally branded NFL player.
Or maybe I’m wrong.
Maybe Diggs is just this way for no tangible reason. Maybe he’s just selfish and he needs all the attention on him. Maybe, he’s just a jerk? I’ve heard that he was always super respectful and professional from the media members I’ve talked to over the years. So, I always looked for a reason as to why he was acting this way. I mean, I also now can’t blame him or anyone for not wanting to be on the rebuilding Vikings, but this behavior predated all of this week’s nightmarish moves (or lack thereof).
So, there it is.
However, when you’re extremely talented you can get away with a lot and it appears that Diggs was rewarded for his boo-hoo-ery by getting traded to a team that with Tom Brady now being gone from the Patriots, should have their division on lockdown for the foreseeable future. But if he isn’t able to get out of his own way he will never find what he’s looking for and while the Bills are a more promising team than the Vikings, I highly doubt that Diggs will reach the heights, statistically, than he would’ve with the Vikings in 2020.
Cousins and company now have Gary Kubiak calling the shots on offense and that, combined with any improvements to the dismal offensive line (which ranked 27th in the league in 2019), should’ve made an offense with Diggs one of the best in the NFL. Now?
Teams will be able to double or triple cover Thielen, and with the team failing time and time again to find even a third receiver let alone one that can replace Diggs, even with the draft picks that they received for Diggs (which’ll most likely be used to fill all the gigantic holes on defense with Zimmer somehow still calling a lot of the shots), it’s hard not to be down about the prospects that the team now face.
I can almost guarantee that outside of some sort of massive intervention from those around him, Diggs’ career will follow that of Brown as while Diggs may think that his bad behavior was rewarded and that he now has what he wants, he will soon find that being the guy as opposed to one of the guys means a whole lot more than he’s yet shown he’s capable of delivering.
Or maybe I’m wrong and his dream was always to play in Buffalo with a quarterback who has yet to top 59% completions or more than 3,100 yards passing… Or even an average QB-rating of 86. That he wants to be the guy who is double or tripled and who has a quarterback who is incapable of hitting him in stride down the field.
I guess we’ll find out. But, unfortunately, we’ve seen this story before and… it doesn’t end well. For the player or the team(s) that decreasingly put up with someone who seems to care more about himself than not only his team, but really more than anyone.
So much so that they’re unable to take a step back and see how their actions do nothing but hurt their ability to accomplish the things they’re clearly and angrily trying to accomplish.
The Vikings, and their fans and media- treated you amazingly Stefon. At a time when this team needed it’s leaders to come together, you showed that you care nothing about the franchise that drafted you, that paid you massive dollars despite the mediocrity that was the start of your career, that put up with slight after slight because they all hoped you’d come to your senses.
You spent more time arguing with fans than doing anything a real team leader would do. During a time when your fans are worried about not only paying their rent or keeping their jobs, but literally just staying alive, you forced your way out of a situation that you created and perpetuated solely by yourself.
Believe it or not, but you’re not the most important thing in the world. You might be, to you, but people look to sports in times of crisis as all people want is a positive distraction from the horror that is the real world. During that time, you showed people what is objectively the worst part of professional sports. The selfishness displayed here is astounding and there’s absolutely no reason why you should feel slighted, or really feel anything but respect and loyalty to the franchise that did everything any player could’ve asked for, for and to you.
I say this as, again, someone who really loved what you do. If you don’t wake up and see what you’re doing and how it’s negatively impacting your brand, your career, your future, then you’ll just end up as another sad example of when the narcissism that is inherent in your position, especially for players who are as gifted as you are (as some aspect of the Keyshawn Johnsonian “Give me the Damn Ball” mindset are needed to succeed at the highest levels) takes over the player and ends what should’ve been a Hall of Fame level career.
Either way, enjoy Buffalo. Let’s see how much you enjoy getting everything you’ve ever wanted.