Stefon Diggs’ most recent catch in an NFL game in Minnesota — the one that led to perhaps the most indelible moment in Vikings history — again figures to be splashed across highlight reels if Diggs eventually signs a long-term deal to keep him with the team beyond this season.
Catches like the one Diggs made Wednesday, and the relationship he’s forging with the man who threw the pass, might ultimately determine whether he gets that deal.
Kirk Cousins — the Vikings’ fifth starting quarterback since Diggs arrived in Minnesota in 2015 — unleashed a deep throw during practice. Diggs streaked down the middle of the field, tracking the ball over his shoulder for the play of the day during the Vikings’ second organized team activity of the offseason.
For all of Diggs’ production during his first three years in Minnesota — and all the fame he gained from his improbable 61-yard, game-winning touchdown in the Vikings’ NFC divisional playoff victory over the Saints — the numbers he produces in a contract year likely will be determined by how he clicks with Cousins.
That’s not a new challenge for the 24-year-old, who’s caught at least 50 career passes from Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater, and Diggs got a head start on the process when he and Adam Thielen spent time with Cousins this offseason in Atlanta.
Now that the Vikings can work in 11-on-11 situations during OTAs, their practice time takes on another layer of importance for the receiver.
“You see guys around the league, they’ve had the same quarterback for eight years, nine years. For me, it’s just the same old building process,” Diggs said. “Getting the trust of your quarterback, that excites me, as far as having a new challenge. It’s a new guy to win for. For me, it’s nothing but a new learning curve. I love a good challenge, so I look forward to it.”
If Diggs handles the challenge well, he could be rewarded handsomely.
He’ll make $1.9 million in the final season of his four-year, $2.5 million deal. Diggs heads into a contract year on the heels of big contracts for receivers such as Sammy Watkins in Kansas City, Allen Robinson in Chicago, Davante Adams in Green Bay and Jarvis Landry in Cleveland. Eighteen NFL wideouts are now playing on deals worth at least $10 million per season.
If the Vikings decide to make Diggs the league’s next wideout with an eight-figure average salary, they’ll have to figure out how to compensate Thielen, who was a second-team All-Pro last season. Thielen will make only $5.1 million in the second season of a four-year deal he signed in 2017, and the Vikings could look to rework his deal as they consider their options with Diggs. In any case, Diggs figures to have a strong market as he nears free agency.
When Landry — who worked out with Diggs and Bridgewater last summer in South Florida — got a five-year, $75 million contract from the Browns this offseason, Diggs quickly tweeted congratulations to the receiver. “These are men that have been playing football their whole life,” Diggs said. “For them securing something for their kids and stuff like that, it’s very special. I like to congratulate guys every chance I get.”
Diggs said Wednesday “there’s no place I’d rather be” than in Minnesota, and sounded hopeful a deal would eventually get done. He demurred, though, when asked if he’s paid attention to the robust receiver market.
“I look at it as, ‘I always want to get things done,’ and I always come in with the mind-set of having success,” he said. “I kind of let my résumé figure itself out. I don’t really focus on the numbers. … I want my résumé to speak for itself.”
He’s one of three key players who will be free agents after the season; defensive end Danielle Hunter is scheduled to hit the open market, as is linebacker Anthony Barr, who told coach Mike Zimmer he wouldn’t be with the team for this part of the offseason.
As the Vikings search for a way to keep all their free agents-to-be, it’s possible they’ll have to let someone go. Diggs, though, can make a strong case to stay if he’s again able to build a rapport with a new QB.
“The way he can run, the tape doesn’t do that justice,” new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. “His ball skills are fantastic. The way he tracks the football in the air — you guys saw him make that deep ball catch down here. His football skills are really, really good.”