A now-famous Esquire feature in 1966 entitled “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” detailed the life of the legendary crooner at a particularly low point of his career.
“It was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence,” reads the Gay Talese piece.
Minnesota Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs broke his own sullen silence on Thursday, speaking to reporters for the first time in two weeks as he addressed trade speculation, a vague discontent with the Vikings offense and his playing status for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. And yes, Diggs too had a cold.
The illness, Diggs claimed, kept him from appearing at Wednesday’s practice, which the team designated as a “non-injury related” absence. It added fuel to an escalating situation that began with seemingly benign social media rumblings and sports-talk radio speculation around Diggs’ dissatisfaction in Minnesota. Head coach Mike Zimmer refused to discuss it Thursday, calling the situation “an internal matter.”
Despite recording his first 1,000-yard season in 2018, Diggs has seen his production dip through a quarter of the 2019 season. Though his 13 receptions and 209 yards don’t look terrible on paper, a large chunk of that came last Sunday at Chicago once the outcome was determined. Early leads and a dominant running game in Minnesota’s two wins made the passing game inconsequential, while the Vikings’ inability to drum up a passing attack in their two road losses have limited Diggs’ impact. The receiver scored a touchdown at Green Bay but had another overturned. He’s also been flagged for offensive pass interference, lost a fumble and been targeted on two interceptions this season. Leading up to Week 1, Diggs dealt with a hamstring tweak and has seen a mild reduction in snaps — relative to co-star Adam Thielen — amidst a rocky start to his season.
“There’s a lot of speculation about me being frustrated,” Diggs said. “Being a receiver and wanting to have success and wanting to win, if you want to win and you’re not winning, of course you’ll be frustrated.”
Thielen voiced his own displeasure with the way things were going after Sunday’s 16-6 loss in Chicago, where he was held to just six receiving yards. But the other half of the Vikings receiving duo has seemingly turned the page.
“We’re not frustrated,” Thielen said after Thursday’s practice. “We’re going to work. If you guys watched practice today, we were flying around, we were having fun, and we were making plays. I think that’s a media thing more than frustration from us.”
Diggs denied that he or his agent had requested a trade, though he did little to quell his disappointment with the current state of affairs. Instead, he added another layer of uncertainty around the future of one of Minnesota’s premier wide receivers, who until the last week was considered a long-term staple in Minnesota’s offense alongside Thielen.
“I feel like there’s truth to all rumors regardless on whether it is good or bad,” Diggs said, a purple hoodie pulled over his face. “There’s always some truth to it. I’ve heard a lot of things circulating. I can’t say what’s real and what’s not.”
The angst from Diggs couldn’t come at a worse time for a Minnesota offense that has had a tumultuous few weeks. Kirk Cousins’ 2018 struggles have carried over to the new season as the Vikings dropped to 2-2 and last place in the NFC North on Sunday. With a dwindling receiving corps, Diggs could be instrumental in turning the scuffling passing game around. He practiced Thursday and believes he’ll play Sunday at the Giants, but the bigger picture is of greater consequence with Diggs slated to be in Minnesota through 2023.
The receiver withheld expressing his specific frustrations but said he’d talked to “everybody” within the organization about his grievances. But when asked if Diggs felt his frustrations were being heard, he wasn’t convinced.
“I’m not 100 percent sure,” Diggs said. “Everybody has known me to be three things. That’s one, a team guy – I’ve always put the team before myself. I’ve never made it just about me. I’ve never been that kind of guy. My resume and my persona kind of speaks for itself. I’ve never been a guy to be like, ‘Me, me, me.’ Wanting to have success and wanting to have team success is always what I’ve pushed. So my language will stay the same whether I’m given many opportunities or not a lot. That’s where we are. I know as a man who I am, what I bring to the table. That’s what I’m going to ride with.”
Diggs is in just the first year of a five-year deal worth up to $72 million that he inked before the 2018 season. Considering the remaining money on the deal, the Vikings have contractual leverage. But they are also thin at receiver, where Josh Doctson and Chad Beebe are on injured reserve and nobody behind Diggs on the depth chart is likely to match his production. That gives Diggs some power and perhaps an opportunity to influence the team’s offensive decision-makers. The run-first approach enacted by Kevin Stefanski and Gary Kubiak has produced strong results on the ground, but it hasn’t opened up the passing game for Cousins as many hoped, leaving Diggs and Thielen on pace for their lowest outputs since 2015.
“The space that I’m in right now is there’s definitely a lot of question,” said Diggs. “I can’t sit up here and act like everything is OK. It’s obviously not. But what I can say at this point, just trying to work through it.”
As Diggs said two weeks ago after a loss against the Packers, “I wear my emotions on my sleeve.” It’s believable that Diggs, who said two weeks he “wears his emotions on his sleeve,” could be feeling the cumulative effect of having constant change and little progress. He’s now on his fourth offensive coordinator and fourth quarterback in five seasons. Since Diggs’ miracle touchdown in the 2017 divisional playoffs, the Vikings are 10-10-1.
The ailment currently afflicting Minnesota is more significant than Stefon Diggs’ cold. Can winning cure it?
“We just need to win,” said Zimmer.