Ten days before Stefon Diggs would step on the Vikings’ training camp field for the first time, Brandin Cooks became the latest receiver to increase Diggs’ chances of scoring a big contract before next spring.
Cooks, who joined his third team in a trade that sent him from the Patriots to the Rams in April, signed a deal with $50.5 million in guaranteed money, as well as a $16.2 million average annual salary that ranks fourth in the NFL among wide receivers.
There are now 19 wideouts playing on contracts worth at least $10 million a season, and Diggs could put himself in position to be the 20th. He hasn’t surpassed 903 yards in a season yet, but he scored eight touchdowns last season while playing with his fourth quarterback and second coordinator in three years.
He began training camp without a new contract, though the Vikings could still try to sign Diggs or linebacker Anthony Barr in the early days of camp. On Sunday, Diggs made it clear he wants to get a deal done in Minnesota.
“I want to be here. I love being here,” he said. “I love being a part of this organization. They took a chance on me early. I love it here, as far as where we’re at. You’ve got to take it up with the right people. I haven’t spent too much time with it.”
The “Minneapolis Miracle” touchdown that won Diggs an ESPY award has certainly vaulted his name recognition nationally. He said Sunday the play “changed my life,” but added he’s trying to “put it in the back of my head.”
“It’s a special moment we’ll always share — Vikings fans and people around the city,” he said. “But for me, I’ve got a new season I’m trying to focus on right now. I’m trying to make some better plays.”
Kicks and punts
While the Vikings determine whether first-round pick Mike Hughes is ready to get on the field at cornerback as a rookie, they’re preparing to harness his talents in another significant way this season.
Special teams coordinator Mike Priefer said Sunday the Vikings are planning at this point to use Hughes as their kick returner, while Marcus Sherels would remain the punt returner. There will be competition at both spots throughout the preseason, Priefer said, but the Vikings are at least heading into camp with the idea of splitting the roles after using Sherels as both the kickoff and punt returner last year.
“I think his talent and productivity in college you’ll probably say, ‘Hey, he’ll probably be the kick returner and Marcus will be the punt returner as it stands today,’ ” Priefer said. “And let them both compete at both spots, to be quite honest, and we’ve got some other young guys that will compete as well that are going to take some return opportunities in the preseason games.”
Hughes returned 20 kicks for 635 yards last year at Central Florida, taking back two of them for touchdowns. He also had 14 punt returns for 233 yards and a touchdown and could battle Sherels for that spot, though Priefer said Hughes came to the Vikings as a smoother kick returner than punt returner.
“He’s come a long way as a punt returner. Kickoffs are a bit easier to catch like we’ve always talked about,” Priefer said. “I think he’s done a really nice job. He’s taking it to heart. He’ll come in a watch some video on his own. We have a lot of close-up video. There’s some little things, that he brought with him from college; he’s already broken those bad habits.”
‘Ahead of the game’
Latavius Murray said he’s “ahead of the game” this training camp because he’s actually practicing, unlike last year when he needed offseason ankle surgery. Murray admitted his first Vikings season got off to a rocky start because he was sidelined during camp and took just two preseason carries. Murray averaged 3.2 yards in the first eight games. He improved in the second half, averaging 4.3 yards per carry.
“When you’re healthy, you’re able to improve and get better,” Murray said. “So I’m ahead of the game this time around.”