In a league where Kyle Shanahan is praised for plucking running backs out of community college and turning them into stars in his offensive system, and Bill Belichick is deified for grabbing guys off the street to fill out his championship teams, it’s easy to believe that everyone in the NFL is expendable. It’s Not For Long, they say. Next man up. Don’t pay running backs. Nothing is more valuable than a quarterback on his rookie deal. So and so has the best contract in the league.
I get it, there’s a tight salary cap that just went down, and the draft is like Christmas in late April. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, not everybody is expendable. Just because the Minnesota Vikings traded Stefon Diggs and used the pick they got back from the Buffalo Bills to take one of the best rookie receivers in NFL history doesn’t mean that Diggs was easily replaced. If Justin Jefferson complains about Minnesota’s archaic offense in the future, there’s no guarantee he will be easily replaced.
Diggs was a diva, but he was also right, and Jefferson’s success doesn’t change that.
There are football fans who celebrate the game’s militaristic undertones, and there are others who watch the game despite them. One view isn’t necessarily better than the other, but the La-Z-Boy drill sergeants who condemn Diggs for being a bad soldier need to lighten up a bit. He didn’t get what was coming for him when he complained about the offense and was sent off to Buffalo — he joined a team that maximized his abilities by playing modern football.
Likewise, all the draft gurus underrated Jefferson. Not just the guys grinding tape from their makeshift home office; we’re talking about employees of NFL teams who are paid handsomely to take the right cost-controlled players in the draft. You know all that, but it’s worth reiterating because when Jefferson and Diggs are tucked neatly between Russell Wilson (14) and Ryan Tannehill (17) in Pro Football Focus’ annual player rankings two weeks ago, it’s hard not to draw a comparison.
You see Jefferson there at 15 and Diggs right behind him at 16, and it’s easy to forget about Troy Williamson and Laquon Treadwell for a moment. Your head is suddenly filled with Jefferson doing The Griddy in the end zone while Adam Thielen (35th in PFFs rankings, by the way) and Kirk Cousins (65) trying to imitate his signature dance. Sure, Diggs had a career year in Buffalo. And yeah, watching a passing offense is way more fun than seeing the Vikings try to wring $63 million of value out of Dalvin Cook in the first year of his five-year extension, but Jefferson is better than Diggs, damn it. PFF said so!
Look, it worked out. But that’s not proof of concept. Just like the Vikings didn’t opt to pass on Jefferson in the first round because Adam Thielen was an undrafted signing (he went to D2 Mankato, dont’cha know?), and Diggs was a fifth-round pick. If Jefferson says he wants the ball more, throw him the ball!
It’s still weird that Diggs had one of the greatest plays Minnesota sports history, and two years later he’s catching passes from Josh Allen in Western New York. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that the Vikings may finally be benefiting from karma a bit.
The New Orleans Saints put a hit out on Brett Favre and lost to Minnesota in the playoffs twice since.
The Philadelphia Eagles and their big swinging backup quarterback blew out the Vikings in the NFC Championship and won the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium, but they took Jalen Reagor one pick ahead of Jefferson.
And yeah, Diggs wanted out and Jefferson is younger and better.
Listen, Cousins is overpaid, and Cook is on an expensive deal. Danielle Hunter is on one of the best contracts in football, and Rob Brzezinski is a wizard. Most pertinently, the salary cap is about to drop and tough decisions have to be made. But as you sit down to watch the draft in a couple months, remember that there’s value in having reliable veterans on the team, and that Diggs was right. Don’t ruin things by rooting against him. And be careful getting out of that pleather chair: You’ve got the meat sweats and getting up is going to be like ripping off a band-aid.