Brandon Beane has a plan for when the 22nd overall pick comes up in the NFL draft later this month.
“We’ve just got to play some videos of Stefon Diggs when 22 comes up,” Beane said Thursday.
The 22nd pick in the first round, of course, is the one the Buffalo Bills’ general manager traded to the Minnesota Vikings last month to acquire Diggs, who is expected to take over as the No. 1 target for quarterback Josh Allen.
Speaking on a media conference call, Beane outlined how that deal came together. The Bills’ interest in Diggs dated back to the trade deadline last season when Beane inquired about the wide receiver, but Minnesota was unwilling to make a move.
On the first day of the negotiating period that preceded the official start of free agency, the Bills circled back after rumors circulated that the Vikings might have changed their tune.
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“We checked back in. It didn’t seem like a definitive, 100% no,” Beane said. “They just said ‘Listen, we’re not shopping him. We just agreed to a contract a little over a year ago.’ So we talked to them and they just said ‘We’ll listen, but it’s got to be something because we need to replace this guy and he’s our No. 1 receiver.’ ”
That conversation happened in the afternoon of March 16. Beane then went about talking to agents of some other pending free agent wide receivers, but told the Vikings he would circle back to them. Sensing some urgency on Minnesota’s part when he called back, a deal came together in short order.
The end result: Buffalo sent pick No. 22, along with fifth- and sixth-round selections this year and a 2021 fourth-round draft pick to the Vikings in exchange for Diggs and a seventh-round pick this year.
“It’s one of those things where I view it, ‘That’s our first-round pick,’ ” Beane said. “You know I love draft picks and that was not easy for me to part with a first-round pick, but at the same time, I view this as our first-round pick and I thought it was good for the value of getting a guy like Stefon.”
Beane admitted this year’s draft class is stacked at wide receiver, so it’s fair to wonder why he didn’t just use his first-round draft pick on a player at the position. The uncertainty surrounding when the NFL will return to business as usual due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic facing the country factored into Beane’s decision.
“I just felt like it was going to be really hard, unless I traded up really high, to find a guy I know could walk in day one (and contribute),” the GM said. “Let’s just say it’s August before we get back to things. I just felt a proven commodity was worth this. The trade value of this move probably moved us up three to four spots from 22, might have gotten us to 18 or 19. Not as high as I thought we would have to get to, to get one of those premier guys that I knew would walk in the door even August 1 and be ready to roll.”
In Diggs, the Bills are getting a proven commodity. The 26-year-old is coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons with the Vikings.
“It’s just a more proven thing right now,” Beane said. “I know this guy knows ball, will be able to understand the verbiage once he learns our system quicker than (a draft pick). A lot of the stuff in college is all signaled in. A lot of these guys aren’t in huddles. So, the biggest transition for these receivers, beyond the routes, the physical stuff, is just hearing these long play calls in the huddle and processing it in their head, from as little as, ‘Do I go left? Do I go right? Am I on the ball? Am I off the ball? Now I’ve got to start reading what coverage they’re in to know what route I’ve got to do, whether I’ve got to convert.’ All those things, the mental part is so hard. And that’s why I think so many receivers, we talk about it all the time, probably one of the higher bust rates across the league. I think it’s more mental than physical.”
Acquiring Diggs addressed arguably the Bills’ No. 1 offseason need. The Bills’ passing offense finished 26th in yards per game (201.8), while the total offense ranked 24th in yards (330.2) and tied for 23rd in points (19.6)
“I blame myself as much as anybody,” Beane said. “It’s my job and my team's job and my personnel staff to add weapons to help Brian Daboll and his staff and help our quarterback and Sean (McDermott), so one of the things I thought we still needed … was finding someone opposite John Brown to pair with Cole Beasley.”
In Diggs, they’ve added a premier talent, but one that’s not without some concerns. Diggs made it clear at times during his tenure with the Vikings that he was unhappy. It’s fair to wonder, then, how he’ll fit into a carefully constructed locker room in Buffalo. Beane and McDermott have placed a big emphasis on finding the right types of players in that regard.
“I think one of the misnomers out there is that we're looking for all choir boys. That's not accurate,” Beane said. “We're looking for professionals. I would say this about him: He's a very competitive guy.”
The Bills did some background work on Diggs at the trade deadline. A big help came from Terrance Gray, the team’s director of college scouting. Gray worked as a scout for the Vikings when Diggs was a fifth-round draft pick out of Maryland in 2015.
“We did do some digging,” Beane said. “This guy's a super-competitive guy and brings an edge to that position. I know diva gets put into that position a lot. I would not call this guy a diva. I would call him more of, I think what he was referring to Josh Allen is, as a dog.
“I think he will fit in. I don't know everything that went on in Minnesota. I'm sure, like anything, there's two sides to every story. I'm sure there's things that he probably wishes he would maybe have handled better in retrospect, but it's a clean slate here. We believe in our culture. We believe the facts that we know about him. We believe he will be a fit here.”
Diggs’ contract is certainly one that can be termed team-friendly for that of a No. 1 wide receiver. He’s signed for the next four seasons, with a cap hit of $11.5 million in 2020 and $12 million the next three years, through his age-29 season. The Bills could get out of that deal – not that they would want to – at any time without long-term salary-cap ramifications.
Beane is loathe to discuss contract details in public, so he largely sidestepped the question of whether there has been any discussion from Diggs’ camp about the receiver wanting a new deal.
“I'm not trying to avoid the question, it's just it's one of those things I'd rather not get into,” Beane said. “He's happy to be in Buffalo and that's probably the best way I can leave it."