What the Stefon Diggs Trade Means for the Futures of the Bills and Texans

Buffalo continued its veteran restructuring while Houston opted to give the receiver added incentive to perform. Plus, notes on Caleb Williams’s visit with the Bears and the teams positioning themselves for quarterbacks in the draft.
Jan 21, 2024; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) during the AFC divisional playoff game against the Chiefs.
Jan 21, 2024; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) during the AFC divisional playoff game against the Chiefs. / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
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Your Friday notes, right here at Sports Illustrated, with three weeks left until the big day …

• Here’s what you need to know on the state of the Buffalo Bills—this was coming, at some point.

The offloading that started with 30-somethings Micah Hyde, Jordan Poyer, Mitch Morse and Leonard Floyd, and soon-to-be-30-something Tre’Davious White departing a month ago continued with the trade of star 30-year-old receiver Stefon Diggs on Wednesday. Diggs’ massive dead-cap figure gets thrown in a pile of debt charges on departed players that could wind up accounting for a quarter of their 2024 salary cap.

The main takeaway then, to me, should be pretty simple. Good.

And I’m not saying that as a shot at Diggs, who gave Buffalo and Josh Allen four mostly spectacular seasons. I am saying that this reckoning was coming one way or the other. So the Bills could’ve delayed it another year, and restructured Diggs, and maybe kept a couple guys they didn’t, and let the roster get a year older. Or they could do what the Rams did in 2023, and rip the Band-Aid off, avoid needing a multi-year cap cleanse, set themselves up to get younger, and go into 2025 with clean financial sheets.

From there, and GM Brandon Beane said this in his press conference, the Bills are going to try and keep their standards where they’ve been, like the Rams did. In Los Angeles, it took great coaching (from Sean McVay), quarterbacking (from Matthew Stafford) and drafting (digging Puka Nacua, Byron Young and Kobie Turner from the middle rounds), and it’ll take the same in Buffalo, putting the onus on Sean McDermott, Allen and Beane to get it done.

Of course, the roster’s still got talent. Allen has a couple rising young guys, in Dalton Kincaid and Khalil Shakir, and the team has 10 picks to work with. And if they can come out of it with another playoff berth, then in 2025 and going forward, they’ll be better for all of this.

• The concern if you’re the Houston Texans in this case would be what version of Diggs you’re getting and, to be sure, the drama that’s surrounded the star receiver was a factor in the decision to move him for Buffalo. But the context Houston lands him in is different than it’d have been if the Bills had held on to him.

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs runs carrying a football.
Jan 15, 2024; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs (14) runs with the ball during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. / Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Simply, it’s a fresh start for Diggs, and a chance to come out with something to prove, and it plays, to a degree, back to a piece of Houston GM Nick Caserio’s own football history.

Caserio was the Patriots’ receivers coach in 2007, when New England swung a fourth-round pick to the Raiders to land a similarly questioned star 30-year-old receiver. On Caserio’s watch, Randy Moss, motivated by being discarded, did produce perhaps the greatest season as a receiver has ever had with 23 touchdowns.

Seventeen years later, Caserio is affording Diggs the chance to gain a similar level of redemption in an environment that, while it’s not what New England was then, is getting really good with the potential to be better. Diggs will play alongside Tank Dell, Nico Collins and Dalton Schultz, and with C.J. Stroud pulling the trigger behind an accomplished, veteran line. He’ll also be playing his home games inside again, after doing so over his first four NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings.

So I wouldn’t bet against the ultra-competitive Diggs having a kind of year in Houston that might not have happened had he stayed with the Bills.

And by the way, this is a really good job by Caserio of leveraging the rookie-contract QB edge the Texans have for the next couple years, alongside the signings of Danielle Hunter, Azeez Al-Shaair and Denico Autry, and the trade for Joe Mixon in March—even if Diggs might only be around for a single year.

• On that end, I do have some reservations about the Texans doing the contract adjustment with Diggs, guaranteeing him more than $22 million for 2024, and his freedom in ‘25. Remember, when you’re trading for a player, it’s not just the player you get, it’s the contract, and Diggs had four years left on his. So in this case, giving up a 2025 second-round pick, even with the fifth- and sixth-rounders coming back, is steep for one year of Diggs, because that second-rounder comes on a very affordable contract for four years.

But, again, for where the Texans are right now, it makes sense. If you combine this trade with the Vikings trade from March, the Texans moved down 19 spots in this year’s draft, from No. 23 to No. 42 (which, per the Jimmy Johnson draft chart, is equal to trading away the 63rd pick) in order to get that year of Diggs, move a seventh-rounder into the sixth round (232nd to 188th), and land a 2024 sixth and a ‘25 fifth. Which is good value.

• We mentioned the four teams that have at least been investigating moving up within the top of the first round—the Giants, Vikings, Broncos and Raiders—and what was most interesting to me is how each of those teams, facing an uncertain future at quarterback, affect one another.

Start with the Giants at No. 6. They’ve done all the work on the quarterbacks. They met extensively with Michael Penix Jr. last Friday, worked Drake Maye out Saturday and worked J.J. McCarthy out Sunday. They had McCarthy and Maye to their facility for extraordinarily early “30” visits before free agency. They’re operating like a team that’s taking one. So they’re either planning to, or they’re trying to get someone else to leapfrog them, and make another top-shelf player fall to them.

Either way, sitting behind them is a risk if you’re looking for one of the top four QBs.

Then, you’ve got the other three—Minnesota, Denver and Vegas—sitting there at 11, 12 and 13, where they potentially could be jockeying to get past the Giants for McCarthy or even with each other for Penix (I feel like that’s probably less likely). All of which should make for one heck of a game of poker between all those GMs over the next few weeks.

• What we do know about the quarterback dance is where Caleb Williams is going. I’d be floored if it’s not Chicago and, as I see it, the hay has been 95% or so in the barn on this since the combine.

Still, there are some interesting tidbits from his 30 visit with the team the other night. One is that he went with a dinner group separate from some of the other draft prospects in town, and with not just the team brass, but some veteran players. Then, the next day, for the first time this offseason, top receiver DJ Moore was in the building. Therein were opportunities for the Bears to see their prospective new quarterback around the older guys he will have to lead, and for Williams himself to get to know his new teammates.

For what it’s worth, the feedback I got back on how all that went was very positive.

• NC State big man DJ Burns Jr., preparing for this weekend’s Final Four, responded succinctly on Thursday when he was asked about his interest in playing football: “Zero.”

NC State basketball player DJ Burns Jr. jogs down the court.
Mar 31, 2024; Dallas, TX, USA; North Carolina State Wolfpack forward DJ Burns Jr. (30) jogs down the court during a game. / Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It makes sense. It took him six years of college basketball to get to this point. He’s obviously passionate about the game (it takes 30 seconds watching him play to know that). And even if he can’t make the NBA—he’s listed at 6’ 9”, probably isn’t that tall, and being a post player at that height is pretty tough in that league—he could probably cash checks playing in Europe for the next decade or so.

That said, a guy who’s his size, and moves the way he does is going to get the attention of NFL folks, regardless of whether he plays football or not (see: Mailata, Jordan), and so earlier in the week I asked around a bit on whether or not Burns could make it as an NFL prospect. The most common question that came up was the obvious one, which concerned his toughness, something that isn’t tested in basketball like it would be in football.

“[Mailata] played rugby … that’s a totally different mindset than a post player with light feet,” texted one AFC exec. “But, yes, I think he could, and I think he probably has a better chance to make a bunch of money in football than basketball. How many 6’ 7” centers are there in the NBA? Not many.”

“Physically, yes, I think he probably could,” says an AFC coordinator. “You never know if he really wants to mix it up, though. Also, even if he doesn’t make it in the NBA, he’ll be able to play in Europe forever. … I think he’ll stick with basketball.”

“My first thought was it’s physical traits vs. mental makeup,” says an NFC line coach. “Tough for basketball isn’t exactly tough for football.”

So he’d be a projection for sure, and more of one than guys like Mailata or Stephen Neal were coming from other contact sports. But the athleticism would be enough to get a real shot, and as Mailata and Neal once showed, sometimes, that’s all a kid needs.

• Speaking of Mailata, his success in getting a second monster contract, this one a three-year extension with $66 million in new money, is further evidence of the value of a great offensive line coach. Jeff Stoutland, initially hired from Nick Saban’s Alabama staff by Chip Kelly, and since held over by both Doug Pederson and Nick Sirianni, definitely is one for the Eagles, and a big reason why they’ve been able to pull so many levers to build great lines.

The coach’s ability to develop an ex-rugby player effectively erased a big swing-and-miss at in the draft, Andre Dillard being that 2019 miss, and create the kind of enviable stability Jason Peters once gave them at a premium position. And all they had to spend to get him was a seventh-round pick. Which illustrates why when you have a guy like Stoutland, you do all you can to keep him, and if you have a chance to get one like, say Bill Callahan, you’re willing to pay to make it happen.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Carson Wentz talks with receiver Bennett Skowronek.
Jan 7, 2024; Santa Clara, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Carson Wentz (right) talks with receiver Bennett Skowronek. / Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

• Carson Wentz was smart to choose Kansas City as a destination. Andy Reid’s has a long history of developing backup quarterbacks, going back to his time as a Green Bay Packers assistant in the 1990s, and Wentz’s experience working with ex-Chiefs coordinator Doug Pederson at the start of his career won’t hurt either.

Now, Wentz is 31, so there’s probably a ceiling on how far he can take this. But he’s giving himself the best by going where he did.

• The Patriots will host Maye on Friday, and the Raiders will host Oregon’s Bo Nix. And these visits are important, final pieces to the process for players, because it gives teams a chance to spend full days with the guys, see them within the walls they’d be working within, and get a second look at anything that might’ve been flagged medically at the combine.

• Best to Vontae Davis’s family. As far I could tell, he was a really nice, thoughtful guy and, of course, a really good player. Here’s hoping those close to him can find peace at a really challenging time.

Albert Breer