When he joined the Minnesota Vikings as a fifth-round pick out of Maryland, Stefon Diggs knew it would be an uphill battle to make a name for himself at wide receiver.
But the young man was no stranger to facing challenging circumstances.
In 2008, Diggs’ father Aron passed away from congestive heart failure. Several months before his death, the patriarch of the Diggs family gave a message to his oldest son.
“He just told me, ‘Look after your brothers. Look after your mom. Look after your family,'” Diggs recalled. “That meant a lot to me. With this day coming forward, it just came full circle. … I’m happy that I can look at my mom and tell her everything’s gonna be OK.”
Diggs signed a five-year extension on Tuesday that could pay him over $70 million through 2023. Though his two younger brothers Trevon and Mar’Sean both have football-playing aspirations, Stefon Diggs was the first to provide his mother, Stephanie, with financial security. Diggs’ mother worked at Amtrak for nearly three decades to support the family.
“That was the first person I wanted to tell,” Diggs said of his mother. “I called her a couple times. You’d be surprised she didn’t answer. She finally got the message and she was kinda frantic a little bit, but she was excited. She was where a mom would be in a situation like that.
“A couple months ago she almost had a heart attack with the Saints game, so I guess this news would be a little bit more relieving, and it’s just a happy moment.”
Diggs, 24, only needed three NFL season to earn one of the top-10 highest wide receiver salaries. Driven by a lower-than-expected draft status, his family situation and a fierce competitiveness, the University of Maryland product averaged over 800 yards from 2015-17.
“I was talking to his mother and how proud she should be, not because of what he does on the field. That’s secondary,” said general manager Rick Spielman. “It’s how your son has grown as a man, and how many people look up to him, and how many kids look up to these guys. They set great examples.”
Stephanie Diggs was on hand for her son’s press conference after he called her Monday and told her she needed to get on a plane. As Stefon Diggs spoke about his father, his voice broke several times. It was 10 years ago in January he had stepped into a “father figure” role at the age of 14. Tuesday’s announcement was the culmination of a decade-long battle to honor his father’s wish.
“Kind of like one of those things where he’s not here, and it probably drove me even more because I knew he wasn’t here,” Diggs said. “But hopefully he’s looking down and he’s happy.”
He likely would’ve been happy last January when his oldest son completed the Minneapolis Miracle nearly 10 years to the day of his passing. Diggs’ 61-yard touchdown reception advanced the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.
His extension, though, went beyond that heroic moment. Diggs has impressed many members of the Vikings organization, including his head coach, since arriving in the spring of 2015.
“He’s been a good person off the field, he’s been a good person on the field,” said Mike Zimmer. “When he messes up, he knows. One time I had him in my office and I asked him a question, and he says ‘Now coach, you know you know the answer when you ask the question.’ Those are the kind of things. He’s a smart guy that’s done a great job.”
His next mission will be to prove the Vikings right for making a significant investment.
“My Pops left me a message to do, and I accomplished it,” said Diggs, “and now I’m moving forward.”