The transaction that transferred Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills from the Minnesota Vikings in the spring of 2020 feels even more essential with the 2021 offseason afoot. Minnesota avoided embarrassment in the aftermath of the deal as rookie Justin Jefferson acted as a more-that-suitable replacement for the departed Diggs. The trade could have been humiliating from an immediacy perspective if Jefferson was a run-of-the-mill rookie player. Why? Because Diggs barnstormed Buffalo. His 2020 performance was phenomenal. Buffalo is 13-3 and will host a playoff game this weekend. Individually, Diggs led the NFL in receiving yards and receptions – two feats incapable of occurrence in Minnesota with Adam Thielen siphoning targets.
Diggs has a new address with his self-professed new beginning. The cryptic tweets paid off.
The Vikings holster a wide receiver six years Diggs’ junior – at $11 million less per season. And, $11 million per season is enough to spend on a damn good football player. If one operates under the assumption that Jefferson will progress even further in Year Two rather than regress, then the Jefferson-instead-of-Diggs gift keeps on giving – until the end of 2024. That is when Jefferson will be eligible for an opulent deal on par with the one Diggs currently possesses. To be sure, Jefferson will shatter financial records when the extension of his contract is enacted if his rookie performance trends northward. Therefore, Minnesota should assuredly make the best of these next four seasons. The LSU alumnus will snatch a gigantesque sum of money in three to four years.
For now, though, the Vikings made out like bandits. General manager Rick Spielman, per usual, needs every nickel and dime in the sofa to make this 2021 offseason thrive.
Cap Would Be Further Underwater
To date, Minnesota is in the red for the salary cap by nearly $10 million. This is the ninth-worst situation via raw numbers as detailed by sportstrac.com. Indeed, the Vikings must be monetarily nimble to unearth themselves from the “negative” in the coming months. Eight other teams including the Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers, and New Orleans Saints are in more dire cap-related situations, but we need not delve into more whataboutism.
Had Diggs remained on this roster and not force his way out of Minneapolis, the prognosis to achieve cap mobility would be nastier. Diggs is not the highest-paid wideout in the NFL [yet], but his $14.4 million-per-year salary nominates Jefferson’s $3.3 million annual earnings as chum change.
The Vikings would face grim chances of extending the deals of Danielle Hunter, Brian O’Neill, or Eric Kendricks (down the road) if Diggs still sucked $14.4 million per year from the cap. When examining the trade from this standpoint, one enters a “no wonder they dealt him” realm.
Absence of Diggs Enables Pursuit of FA(s)
Vikings analysts have no covenant with anybody that guarantees the exodus of Kyle Rudolph or Anthony Harris. But many of us were correct about Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen, and Xavier Rhodes at this time last year. In all likelihood, Rudolph and Harris will not rejoin the 2021 Vikings at their current pricetags (and the budgetary maneuvering probably starts with Rudolph).
The Rudolph and Harris subtractions would be absolute no-brainer, mandatory moves if Diggs still played for the Vikings – just to survive and limp into 2021. With the money saved by Diggs’ emigration, Minnesota can actually peek at a notable free agent or two.
For example, the hypothetical cutting-of-ties with Rudolph, Harris, Riley Reiff, and Shamar Stephen, plops the Vikings around $11-15 million above the cap for free agency. Diggs’ 2021 presence on the roster would mandate that these moves merely get the budget “back to zero” in order to proceed with football operations.
Doesn’t Mean Cap Situation is Peachy
Diggs’ nonexistence on this roster verifiably makes the Vikings more agile entering the offseason. Had he remained in town, the outlook is more indicative of a horror story. But not anymore.
Minnesota has breadcrumbs of sprightliness for the 2021 offseason. That does not mean their cap situation is good. It is still very strapped. Other rim-rocking solutions are available albeit unpopular. The Vikings could trade Adam Thielen and focus on another affordable WR2 option – just as they did offseason. The team could trade or restructure Anthony Barr. Or Spielman could find a team for Kirk Cousins barter. Of those routes, a Barr restructure is most likely (but saves the least amount of funds).
The takeaway is that a handful of free-agency deals can be explored. That would not be the case if Diggs’ $72 million contract remained on the books.