EKSTROM: Stefon Diggs Enters Contract Year with Confidence

Photo Credit: Mark J. Rebilas (USA Today Sports)

Even when there’s nothing at stake, Stefon Diggs still has a way of catching your eye.

Since his surprising rookie season, where the fifth-round pick became one of the Vikings’ top receiving threats, it’s been easy to notice that Diggs is different. His route-running is crisper than most, his acceleration more noticeable and his ability to change direction, sublime.

And that’s just in practice.

It was no surprise that Diggs stole the show at the first organized team activity open to the media, hauling in Kirk Cousins’ deep ball — on a dive, over his shoulder — in a highlight that would’ve made Willie Mays doff his cap.

Diggs is just over four months removed from an even bigger catch — the Minneapolis Miracle. His 61-yard walk-off touchdown in the NFC Divisional Round likely elevated him, in the mind of many, from an important Vikings receiver to an irreplaceable asset. That bodes well for the fourth-year receiver, who is making under $2 million in the final year of his rookie contract.

His next deal — whether that be an extension with the Vikings or a free-agent deal elsewhere — could conservatively be worth over $60 million total with over $25 million guaranteed.

Diggs is already primed to cash in. But with a new quarterback and new offensive coordinator looking to squeeze even more excellence out of him, Diggs could redeem the mega-bucks reserved for only the NFL’s elite wideouts.

“I love being here,” Diggs told reporters after Wednesday’s OTA practice. “Like I said, those kinds of things figure themselves out. As far as my team, I love being here. I love playing with the Vikings. I started here, and I’ve been happy all my time here. I love my teammates, I love my staff, there’s no place I’d rather be than here.”

The top three wide receiver salaries belong to Mike Evans ($82.5 million overall; $38.258 million guaranteed), DeAndre Hopkins ($81 million; $36.5 million) and Jarvis Landry ($75.5 million; $34 million). Diggs will need to improve his production to join that conversation, however.

Photo Credit: Brian Curski

The former Maryland Terrapin has fallen just short of 1,000 yards each of the last two seasons, largely because of injuries that have either led to missed games or slowed him on the field. When healthy, though, Diggs has shown he can be among the league’s best. He combined for 391 yards and four touchdowns through the first four games of last season before tweaking his groin in Week 5 against the Chicago Bears.

In the playoffs, Diggs went for 137 and 70 yards, respectively, including his memorable game-winning score against the New Orleans Saints.

Diggs only had two 100-yard games last season if you include his playoff performance, but don’t forget that Adam Thielen was busy amassing nearly 1,300 yards of his own. When Diggs was targeted, his quarterbacks had a 120.4 rating, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Tyreek Hill of the Chiefs collected a better rating when targeted.

“It shocked me the way he can run,” said new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. “The tape doesn’t do that justice. His ball skills are fantastic, the way he tracks the football in the air.

“With him, he’s got as much energy as I have which is a lot.”

As the Eagles quarterbacks coach, DeFilippo watched Diggs from afar when Philadelphia played Minnesota two years in a row. Now he gets to draw up plays for the multi-faceted 24-year-old.

Diggs says his attention to detail will make the transition to a new offensive coordinator easier. In 2015 and 2016, he excelled quickly under both ex-coordinators Norv Turner and Pat Shurmur.

“I play everything,” Diggs said of his versatility, “so it’s not a big learning curve for me as far as learning the new concepts and the things they like to do. Each coach is different, and I try to learn it to a T. Not just the vanilla, but the nuances on how they want things done. I’ll play whatever you need me to play, so I’m not going to have too many problems with it.”

The Vikings are currently using just over 9 percent of their salary cap on wide receivers, the sixth-lowest number in the league, according to Spotrac. That will escalate soon if Diggs stays a Viking.

If Minnesota intends to retain Diggs, they ought to do it sooner than later. If Diggs puts together the healthy, complete season that has thus far eluded him, his price tag may become exorbitant.

“For me, I don’t really focus on the numbers,” he said. “I’m happy for the guys that get paid around the league. These are men that have been playing football for their whole life. As far as them securing something for their kids and stuff like that, it’s very special, so I like to congratulate guys every chance I get. As far as my particular situation, I want my résumé to speak for itself.”

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