Stefon Diggs stepped to the microphone Thursday, his purple hoodie draped halfway over his head and clinging to his cheeks.
The Minnesota Vikings’ star receiver had missed practice the day before — with a cold, he’d go on to note — and while he largely dodged questions about whether he is unsatisfied with his role with the 2-2 Vikings, it doesn’t take much to surmise his true feelings given his answer about the state of the offense when asked for the third time.
“I can’t sit up here and act like everything is OK,” Diggs said at one point. “It’s obviously not.”
And when asked about speculation he wants to be traded, Diggs simply — and calmly — shrugged.
“Speculation? I feel like there’s truth to all rumors, you know?” he said. “No matter how you dress it up.”
Diggs practiced Thursday, but the Vikings’ decision to list his Wednesday absence as a “non-football injury” — despite his insistence that he had a cold — only fueled speculation that the talented 25-year old has grown weary in the Vikings’ run-heavy scheme, manned by a largely risk-averse quarterback in Kirk Cousins.
And guess what? If that is indeed the case .... Diggs has an effing point! Not to go all Howard Beale on you, but good on him — and Adam Thielen, too — for being fed up and refusing to take it anymore.
Look, the Vikings boast one of the league’s strongest ground games, and in an era where it’s never been easier to pass due to offense-friendly rule changes, they should absolutely be ripping up defenses through the air, too — and not just on Cousins’ beloved play-action.
But they aren’t, largely because of Cousins’ inability to push the ball downfield. What’s more, the Vikings are even weak on play-action, averaging a mere 6.3 yards per play (24th in the league despite calling it at a 29 percent clip, eighth most in the league). If you were an All-Pro caliber receiver in your absolute prime, that type of passing ineptitude would piss you off, too.
So from here, if both of them speaking out this week is what it takes to get Cousins’ attention, then it’s for the best. And while we’re at it, so is the fact that there seems to be an increasing number of NFL players who — despite playing in one of America’s most militaristic, rigid sports leagues — increasingly seem to be recognizing and asserting their power (albeit to a lesser degree than their counterparts in, say, the NBA).
In Jacksonville, star 25-year-old cornerback Jalen Ramsey is mired in a standoff with the organization over “disrespectful” things that were said in a meeting. This August, Zeke Elliott held out all of training camp and was ultimately rewarded with a massive deal a year ahead of schedule. And last year, Le’Veon Bell opted to sit out the entire season rather than log another 400-touch campaign during a contract year. He was rewarded with a massive deal by the Jets this offseason.
By the way — if you find yourself being annoyed by this phenomenon, if you find yourself angry about players taking a business-like approach to a child’s game, just remember that A) football stops being a child’s game the moment players enter the multi-million dollar exploitation machine that is college football and B) NFL teams sever contracts and unceremoniously cut players all the time.
Besides, think of all the Hall of Fame careers that would have been saved if more players had this epiphany a decade or even two decades ago. Maybe Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson wouldn’t have each retired at 30 years old. Imagine seeing those two at the absolute peak of their powers, playing for legit championship contenders on the game’s biggest stages. It would have been just as fulfilling as seeing John Elway finally cash in on a title late in his career, right?
The thing is, you also have to acknowledge that Elway was a little lucky. Even star players can’t pick their teammates and coaches, so it took the football gods finally sending him a competent supporting cast — led by coach Mike Shanahan and Hall-of-Fame running back Terrell Davis — to solidify his legacy.
Not every player who cares about winning is afforded that, obviously, which is why — considering the tenuous nature of NFL careers — it’s so important for those players to do whatever they can to maximize their chances to do just that, even after they’ve get handsomely paid (which Diggs has been).
So if that means Diggs has to open some eyes feeding into speculation he wants a trade, that’s fine by me. As long as he doesn’t become an Antonio Brown-like distraction — which I’m not even convinced an in-his-prime Terrell Owens could replicate at this point — my hunch is his teammates understand.
Hell, in today’s day and age, it might not be long before one of them chooses to sit out or speak out in an attempt to take control of their legacy ... especially if it elevates Cousins’ play, or Diggs indeed forces a trade.
They say the NFL is a copycat league, but as Diggs showed Thursday, we’re slowly seeing that it’s a phrase that extends to players’ willingness to make business decisions as much as it does coaches’ willingness to steal on-field concepts from each other.
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