Why paying Stefon Diggs was right decision for Vikings

Vikings, Diggs agree to extension (1:16)

John Fox weighs in on the Vikings signing WR Stefon Diggs to a 5-year, $81M extension. (1:16)

EAGAN, Minn. -- Stefon Diggs didn't want to go anywhere. The Minnesota Vikings weren't going to let him.

The 24-year-old Minnesota receiver signed a five-year extension on Tuesday that ESPN's Adam Schefter reports is worth a total of $81 million. The deal, which runs through 2023, pays Diggs $14.4 million per year, according to league sources, and has over $40 million in total guarantees.

A contract of that magnitude for a receiver who has yet to notch a 100-catch, 1,000-yard season sends a message: Minnesota believes in Diggs and sees his value not for what he is now but in how good he can be in this offense, surrounded by this cast for years to come.

"I love that guy," Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said. "He's exactly what you want in a player and in my mind, a superstar player."

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, Diggs was too important to the success of this operation to let him get to free agency. If the Vikings didn't sign Diggs now and he exploded in his first season with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, the Vikings could have risked pricing themselves out of retaining one-half of the league's top receiving duo. Diggs' new deal places him among the top-10 wide receiver salaries. If he played out the remainder of his rookie contract, he might have climbed up that list further.

If there was just one element of Diggs' game or a specific route he ran well, it'd be easy to encapsulate his value in a succinct manner.

But if that was the case, the Vikings wouldn't be paying Diggs what they are. Diggs may not have the heralded numbers when it comes to catches or receiving yards, but those stats don't always tell the full story. Over the last two seasons, Diggs ranked second in reception percentage (71.8) for receivers with a minimum of 200 targets, according to ESPN Stats and Information. He reached 200 career receptions in the fewest games of any Vikings receiver, beating Randy Moss (42) by two.

The way he's mastered his route tree, how he tracks the ball in the air, fights through press coverage, doesn't fear contested catches and plays bigger than his frame gives the Vikings a wealth of options in which to best utilize his skillset.

"He can do just about everything and that's what you want from a receiver who doesn't give you limitations," Cousins said.

Last season, Diggs led the NFL in contested catch rate (64 percent) according to Pro Football Focus. Coming down with the ball in tight windows is one of the many areas where Diggs helped elevate the quarterback play around him. Over the past two years, Vikings quarterbacks posted a 110.7 QB rating when throwing in his direction.

"I saw when he came down to Atlanta in early April just throwing routes on air, he doesn't shy away from the ball, he attacks it and goes and gets it," Cousins said. "You don't do that unless you have confident hands, you have natural hands and when you add defensive backs and you add traffic, those skills really come to the surface and show themselves."

Diggs' frame may trick defenses into believing he won't be able to bang around with bigger, physical cornerbacks in the red zone, but his unassuming stature has become a major asset for the Vikings. Over the past two seasons, he posted a 132.2 receiver rating inside the 20-yard line.

"I think, number one, is his speed," DeFilippo said. "I think corners in this league have a really hard time knowing that, hey, he might run by me on a fade route so they're going to give him a little bit of cushion which opens the room for quick outs, slants, gives him room to catch and run with the football. He's strong enough to be able to catch and run with the football, break a tackle and dive into the end zone. His overall speed and explosiveness is why you see some free access on him in the red zone."

Creating explosive gains has been a big part of Diggs' repertoire, establishing himself as a deep threat (43.5 reception percentage on 46 targets that traveled 20 yards or more) or orchestrating for others as Cousins pointed out in training camp.

"He's out here when I motion him in in walkthrough to block the safety," Cousins said. "There's a sense of urgency. It matters to him. It's not just a walkthrough to go through the motions. This matters to make sure I block the safety so Dalvin can gain some yards."

That dedication to not only himself, but the overall success of the offense is why he's such a valued part of this franchise.

"We were here last night until 9:15 doing install," Cousins said. "I've been a part of some locker rooms where by 9 o'clock, some of your guys are sleeping in the back row and not taking notes and not paying attention and they're basically checked out. They're texting or whatever. That's just not him. That's not these guys. At 9 o'clock at night we're installing the 100th play of the install, (Diggs is) still taking notes, he's listening, if coach has a point to make, he's writing it down and he's taking the coaching and he's translating it to the field the next day."

With Diggs in the fold, Minnesota now has 13 players under contract through at least the 2020 season, including Cousins, Adam Thielen, Dalvin Cook, Pat Elflein, Riley Reiff, Mike Remmers, Everson Griffen, Danielle Hunter, Linval Joseph, Eric Kendricks, Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith.

That type of stability is almost unheard of in the NFL. Super Bowl windows don't often last long, but Minnesota strategically chose to extend a player it believes will contribute to its success throughout the next six years.

"I love it," Cousins said. "Continuity is, to me, very important and it's not a luxury we have in the NFL these days. There is a lot of change year in and year out and so I've come to accept that and understand that you can't use that as an excuse. As the new players come in, including myself, we have to learn quickly and get caught up to speed and go and expect there to be more turnover as the year goes. But if we can develop continuity, that's just a bonus and it is an asset if you can have it."