After sitting out Wednesday’s practice for what the Vikings called “non-injury related” reasons, Stefon Diggs returned to the team’s facility Thursday and acknowledged his frustration with the state of the offense through four games.
In his first midweek comments to reporters in several weeks, Diggs first said, “I haven’t had any interviews where I’ve stated my emotions on how I feel, or whatever state I was in.” When asked if that meant the reports of frustration were false, Diggs said, “The space that we’re in right now, definitely, it’s a lot of questions. I can’t stand up here and act like everything is OK, because it’s obviously not. What I can say is, at this point, I’m just trying to work through it.”
When asked if he wanted to be traded, Diggs said, “I feel like there’s truth to all rumors, no matter how you dress it up. I won’t be saying nothing on it. I won’t be speaking on it all. But there is truth to all rumors, I guess.”
Asked later if he wants to be in Minnesota, Diggs said, “I love it here. I’ve been here for five years. I love everything about the community, I love everything about my teammates, I love everything about my team. But, will I be here or not? [It’s] whether they want me here.”
He said he “hasn’t communicated” anything to the organization about a trade. When asked if his agent, Adisa Bakari, has approached the team about a trade, he said, “I haven’t spoken to him about it. You’ve got to talk to him.”
Diggs said he’s “met with everybody” in the organization about his frustration.
As to whether he feels his frustrations have been heard, Diggs said, “I don’t know at this point. With where things are going, the trend that we’re at right now, I’m not 100 percent sure. Everybody’s known me to be three things, and that’s [No.] 1, a team guy. I’ve always put the team before myself. I’ve never made it just about me. I’ve never been that kind of guy. My résumé and persona kind of speaks for itself; I’ve never been the kind of guy to be like, ‘Me, me, me.’ Wanting to have success, and wanting to have team success, is always what I’ve pushed. My language will stay the same, whether I’m given many opportunities or not. I know as a man, who I am, what I bring to the table, and that’s what I’m going to ride with.”
Diggs claimed his absence Wednesday was because “the cold kind of snuck up on us a little bit. I was feeling a little bit under the weather, that’s all. I just kind of haven’t been feeling well, especially after the game. It was kind of rainy.”
The Vikings, and other NFL teams, usually list “illness” as the reason for a player missing practice when he is out sick.
Diggs was a full participant in practice Thursday, and coach Mike Zimmer declined to discuss his absence.
“It’s an internal matter, and I’m not going to talk about it,” Zimmer said in response to a handful of questions about Diggs, including whether he had asked for a trade.
Sources said Diggs also missed Monday’s team meetings a day after the Vikings’ 16-6 loss to the Chicago Bears. He appeared visibly upset on the sideline Sunday, a game in which he fumbled on his second reception before finishing with seven catches for 108 yards, and walked past reporters in full pads and uniform after the game.
“That’s with any game you don’t win, because at the end of the day, I want to put my team in the best position to win,” he said Thursday. “I saw how Adam [Thielen] kind of touched on the amount of time and effort you put in. You want to have success, and you want to perform at a high level. Right now, I’m kind of just working through it.”
Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski said Thursday morning the Vikings will “see how it goes” when asked if Diggs would play Sunday.
Diggs said, “I hope they let me play [on Sunday]. I like football. I want to be a part of playing football on Sunday, as always.”
On Thursday morning, multiple sources said players have known about Diggs’ issues with the organization for months. Those issues, sources said, have centered on his role with the team and its offensive direction.
Since a hot start catapulted both Diggs and Thielen to 100-catch seasons in 2018, the Vikings’ passing game production has ebbed. In the seven games since Stefanski replaced John DeFilippo as the team’s offensive coordinator last December, Diggs has 27 catches for 315 yards, while Thielen has 23 for 316. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has thrown for more than 250 yards in a game only three times in the team’s past 13 games, and has yet to do so this season.
“Everybody has a role,” Diggs said Thursday. “I’ve been here for a while. It’s not like I don’t have a role. But given the situation and what’s going on, I’m trying to the best of my ability to do my job. At the end of the day, all I can say is, if I’m doing my job, I’m doing what I’m asked. And whether it’s enough, it’s kind of on them. But when I’m given my opportunities, I try to make the most of my opportunities, and that’s it.”
Diggs was the only player not present during the Vikings’ first week of organized team activities in May. He is in the first season of a five-year, $72 million extension the team gave him in July of 2018; the Vikings reworked Thielen’s deal in April to pay him $64.8 million over four years, putting his average annual salary ahead of Diggs’ deal.
Under the contract Diggs signed last year, he’s in line to trigger a $666,667 escalator clause for 2021, as well as a $750,000 escalator for 2022 and an $800,000 escalator for 2023, each time he surpasses either 100 catches or 1,375 yards from 2018-20. He posted 102 catches last year, but at the moment, with Diggs sitting at 13 catches and 209 yards through four games while playing for a run-heavy team, the chances of reaching those escalators appear remote.
Thielen, it should be noted, has the same incentives in his new contract; he’s got 13 catches for 179 yards so far this season.
The Vikings are not due to pay the final $5 million of Diggs’ $15 million signing bonus until next March 15, and Diggs has $10.9 million in 2020 base salary guarantees tied to him being on the roster on March 20.
On Thursday, at least, the Vikings tried their best to project normalcy with Diggs back in the building.
“Diggs is one of my closest friends. For me, I’m just trying to worry about my job,” Thielen said. “Those are things that are out of my control. I’m going to go back to work and try to help this football team win games. As he is. He was out there [Thursday] and grinding. Like I said, everybody on this team is worried about Sunday and worried about putting their best foot [forward] on Sunday.”