Stefon Diggs' dramatic drop in production needs to be addressed


Staff member

The Buffalo Bills put on a united front in the days that followed the disappointing end to their season.

Starting with quarterback Josh Allen and continuing with head coach Sean McDermott and General Manager Brandon Beane, all of them had some variation of the same thing to say about wide receiver Stefon Diggs. That being, he’s our guy.

“That’s my brother. You’ll never catch me saying anything other than positive things,” Allen said. “He’s been such a catalyst for this team and this offense for the last four years. He’s done things that I can’t thank him enough for in my career.”

The Bills season once again came to an end in the divisional round of the playoffs and now management must move forward after the loss to the Chiefs. Mark Gaughan and Katherine Fitzgerald look at how GM Brandon Beane plans on addressing the offseason and keeping the Bills competitive.

In addition, Mark and Katherine look at the rising talent on the Bills roster and how the Defensive side of the team will look different once the 2024 training camp starts in the summer.

No dispute there. Nevertheless, there is no denying Diggs’ production took a dramatic nosedive during the season. After starting the year with five 100-yard games in the Bills’ first six contests, Diggs failed to reach that number again during the final 13 games.

Figuring out why, exactly, that was the case has to be one of the top priorities in the offseason.

“I think teams were doing a good job of playing two high (safeties) and taking some things away that we were doing well during the season,” Allen said. “I thought we ran the ball more and put more effort into the run game. Then I missed a few throws early on in the season or the middle of the season, late in the season that could have changed the narrative about this whole thing. So just get back to what we know, how we can play and that’s about it.”

Again, no dispute there. Allen and Diggs were close on deep shots against the Chargers, Patriots and Dolphins at the end of the regular season. Catch those passes, and his production looks dramatically different. The plays weren’t made though, and no points are awarded for coming close.

“I need a lot of things that go right for me to get the ball, you know what I’m saying? O-line got to block. Quarterback got to throw. And I got to run a good route. I got to catch the ball,” Diggs said before the game against the Steelers. “I try not to look at it as just one piece. I need a lot of things to go right. Of course, I want everything to happen. Even though you want the perfect story, but it never happens that way. Just got to keep grinding.”

Then against Kansas City came the biggest miss of the season. In the fourth quarter, Allen unleashed a perfect pass that traveled 60-plus yards through the air, but went through Diggs’ arms, harmlessly hitting the turf for a killer incomplete pass. It’s precisely the type of play the Bills need their No. 1 receiver to make. Diggs, 30, has a $27.84 million salary cap hit in 2024. If the Bills were to cut (or trade) him before the start of the new league year, he would cost $31.096 million against the cap. In other words, he’s highly unlikely to be anywhere but Buffalo next season.

If the Bills traded (or cut) him after June 1, they would save $19 million against the cap this season, but would be left with a huge dead money charge of $22.247 million in 2025, so it’s a good bet Diggs will be in Buffalo for at least the next two years.

“Stef, he’s a No. 1 receiver. I firmly believe that, not wavering off of that,” Beane said. “Listen, we have to continue to put weapons out there to keep teams from bracketing him or you know, locking him down in different ways to take him away. They know you are going to want him. Stef can still play.

“I’m sure he would love to have that deep ball again, he’d be the first to tell you. He’s super competitive, he’s going to work his tail off this offseason. I know there’s various reasons or questions on this or his production and all that, but I still see Stef as a No. 1 receiver.”

Unfortunately for the Bills, they didn’t get that type of production. In fact, over the final 10 games of the season, second-year wide receiver Khalil Shakir had more yards than Diggs (462 to 422) on fewer than half the targets (37 for Shakir, 80 for Diggs). That’s astounding.

“I can’t say in particular why specifically,” McDermott said of why Diggs’ production dried up the way it did. “If I could, we would flip it back that way, right? To the way it started earlier in the year. Sometimes defenses evolve, sometimes there are more things on tap through the course of the season and people copy them, what’s on tape.”

As for how Diggs feels about any of this … who knows. He spoke to the media ahead of the wild-card playoff game against Pittsburgh, but declined to be interviewed after the loss to the Chiefs and was not present during locker cleanout day. It’s now two straight years that Diggs has mostly gone radio silent in the media at the end of the season, which isn’t a great look for a team captain. Most fans don’t care about that, though, and by all accounts, Diggs was a good teammate even as his production dipped.

“Listen, Stef is a great player. I love Stef. He was a phenomenal teammate,” McDermott said. “I like how the offense found some rhythm, though, under (interim offensive coordinator) Joe (Brady), and Stef got back involved at times, especially down the stretch, at least in the last two or three games.”

In four years with the Bills, Diggs has been a constant, reliable target. He’s played in every game in the regular season, catching 445 of 664 targets for 5,372 yards and 37 touchdowns. In the postseason, he’s played nine games, catching 47 of 77 targets for 600 yards and just two touchdowns.

The Bills are facing an offseason of uncertainty at receiver. Gabe Davis is a pending unrestricted free agent, and the likelihood that he’ll be back is in question. Trent Sherfield is scheduled to become a free agent, and the possibility exists the Bills could move on from Deonte Harty in a move to save space under the salary cap. That leaves just Diggs and Shakir as contributors sure to be back for the 2024 season. A lot can change between now and April, but as it stands, receiver looks to be perhaps the No. 1 roster need heading into free agency and/or the draft.

“Any guy that causes the defense (to react), that you can put them in a look and get them where you can dictate to them,” Beane said. “If that’s another receiver to offset Stef or whoever else, yes, we wouldn’t hesitate to do that.”

In his last interview before the season ended, Diggs was asked about what his message to Sherfield had been during a difficult season. As part of his answer, he offered a glimpse into his own season.

“They’re applicable to myself, too,” he said of what advice he’s had for Sherfield, “as far as, like, outcome detachment. As much as the work you put in for yourself, and as self-driven as you are as a player, the outcome, or the results aren’t always what you want them to be. That’s what I mean by outcome detachment. Invest in the process, trust the process.”

The Bills have to hope that process involves getting back to what he’s been for most of his time in Buffalo – that of a dominant, No. 1 receiver.