Fast Friday 5: Is Stefon Diggs the Patriots’ answer?

Andy Hart
February 21, 2020 - 6:08 am
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Can you Diggs it?

Patriots fans and the local media – and maybe Tom Brady, who knows? – always seem to lust after some theoretical addition to the New England aerial attack that would inject record-setting life into the unit.

Over the years some of those courtships have been consummated with the arrivals of Hall of Fame talents like Randy Moss and Antonio Brown.

Others, like Larry Fitzgerald, never came to football fruition.

Now, there is a new playmaking name to add to Patriot Nations’ lipstick list of desired targets – Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs.

Diggs’ name came up often in 2019 during the Patriots tumultuous season at the wide receiver position. Now, in part because the receiver seemingly removed all references to the Vikings from his social media feeds, the idea of Diggs being an option for the target-needy New England squad has been reignited.

First things first, NFL Network has already reported that Diggs isn’t likely to be traded away from Minnesota this offseason. Wet blankets!

Then there is the question of just how good Diggs really is. While it’s true that he hasn’t always been blessed with the best quarterback play, he has been surrounded by plenty of other weapons to spread the defense. Diggs caught 102 passes for a 10-yard average in 2018 and then just 63 passes for a far more impressive 17.9-yard average this past season.

Diggs is 26 years old and is under contract through the 2023 season with salaries around $11 million and cap numbers near $12 million for any team that trades for him.

Is Diggs a talented player? Would he help the Patriots passing attack? Yes and yes.

Maybe trying to trade for him would be the kind of move that would appease Brady’s reported desire to have more talented teammates to work with in the New England passing game. Maybe.

From this perspective Diggs is a good but not great receiver. He’s a lot closer to Brandon Cooks in impact value than he is Moss or AB. There’s no shame in that.

But, he’s also probably not the cure-all to everything that ailed Brady and the Patriots offensive issues a year ago.

He is a fun name to speculate about, though.

Just like Moss, Fitzgerald, Josh Gordon, Brown and all the others before him.

 

No game of tag

Starting on February 25 NFL teams can begin to utilize either their franchise tag, their transition tag or both, assuming that a new CBA is not signed before then. If a new CBA does go into effect, teams will only have one of the tag options at their disposal.

Franchise tags are essentially a one-year deal at the average of the top five contracts at a position over a five-year span, while transition tags are the top 10. The latter allows players to sign offer sheets that could be matched by the tagging team, while the former basically keeps a player from hitting the open market.

From a Patriots perspective, it seems unlikely that either tag will be used.

While the most likely candidate for a franchise tag would be Brady, he negotiated out of that possibility in his reworked contract last summer. Who knows if the Patriots would even want to go to a number that’s projected near $27 million, but it’s not an option.

The next most likely candidate for one of the tags in New England is guard Joe Thuney. According to OverTheCap.com the franchise tag projection for offensive line is $16.1 million while the transition tag could come in at $14.6 million. While Thuney is a very good player, those are massive cap figures to add to a line that already has Shaq Mason on a $50 million contract and a team that’s not exactly flush with cap space.

So while it’s dangerous to ever rule anything out, it would seem extremely unlikely that Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will be using either the franchise or transition tag in the coming weeks for any of their free agents.

With Brady not an option, it really just doesn’t make much financial sense.

 

Capping Brady’s cap number?

One recent report had the Patriots willing to pay Brady in excess of $30 million to return to New England.

Another said the Raiders will be willing to do a two-year deal for $60 million for TB12.

And one projection even predicts that the GOAT could end up with a three-year deal worth $100 million with $65 million guaranteed.

All are huge numbers and raises from the $23 million Brady collected last season. And though the devil is in the details of NFL contracts, would all likely include higher cap figures for the aging legend.

That’s especially true given the fact that Brady will automatically carry $13.5 million in dead money on the cap in New England if he actually reaches free agency on March 18.

Without knowing the structure of a new contract – which could hinge on the NFL and the NFLPA reaching an agreement on a new CBA extension – let’s just use a nice round $30 million cap figure for Brady in 2020 off these reported potential contract offers. Let’s also assume, for the sake of this exercise, a nice round $200 million NFL cap for 2020.

That would make a $30 million cap hit account for 15-percent of the cap, which would be the highest of Brady’s career in New England. Using the numbers at OverTheCap.com, Brady’s previous high cap charge was 13.6-percent way back in 2006. A more recent high was his 12.4-percent hit in 2018.

To keep Brady’s cap charge in the range of the 8-11 percent norm of the last decade or so, his cap number for 2020 – including the $13.5 million in dead space if he hits free agency, or at least $6.75 million if he does not – would have to be between $16-22 million.

Plenty of reports have indicated that Brady’s decision to return to New England won’t necessarily be about money, but it’s hard to imagine him essentially taking a pay cut from a year ago, regardless of his statistics or the Patriots’ uncharacteristic early exit from the postseason on Wild Card Weekend.

Buckle up your calculators everyone, things could get interesting. In some ways, they already have.

 

Time to C what they’ve got

There were a few different interpretations of Danny Ainge’s decision to stand pat with his Celtics’ roster at the NBA trade deadline.

Maybe he just doesn’t think the team is all that good was one of the explanations. The idea being that Boston can come up short of being good enough to pass Milwaukee in the East with or without a deal to try to bolster the roster.

Maybe he’s too fixated on “winning” trades rather than simply doing a deal that actually adds some talent – like maybe a much-needed big man and interior presence – to the mix.

Or, maybe just maybe, Ainge really likes his roster, even if it is top-heavy.

For better or worse, the Celtics are who they are.

Kemba Walker has been the perfect replacement for Kyrie Irving, an All-Star player without the all-star headaches and chemistry issues.

Jayson Tatum is taking off and taking the next step toward become a superstar, coming into his own as the type of player many thought he could develop into.

Jaylon Brown is living up to the contract that Ainge gave him this offseason.

Gordon Hayward shows flashes of brilliance to his game, even if he doesn’t finish the way many of us would like and likely will never truly be a $30 million player.

Marcus Smart remains the glue to it all, able to make key timely plays in the big moments.

Seemingly a year too early, the Celtics used the “C Us Rise” slogan a year ago when the team did anything but ascend under Irving’s “leadership.” It wasn’t good. It wasn’t fun.

Right now maybe we can all just sit back and see where this C’s team can actually rise to.

Maybe the ceiling is indeed losing in the Easter Conference Finals. Maybe that’s the reality Ainge acknowledged at the trade deadline.

If so, what’s wrong with that?

Or maybe Ainge is more optimistic than that and sees more for his young, developing nucleus.

Time will tell, beginning Friday night in Minnesota.

 

Play ball!

Let’s see if we can sum up recent events in Major League Baseball.

It seems everyone hates Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Everyone outside of Houston hates the Astros.

And the populous of Red Sox Nation hates Boston ownership right now following the financially-motivated trade of former MVP and homegrown superstar Mookie Betts.

That’s a lot of hate floating around America’s Pastime during what should be the hope-filled days of spring training.

Even the living-legend, smiling ambassador of all things Red Sox, David Ortiz, got dragged into the controversy this week.

Sure the reality is that the results of the Red Sox own sign-stealing scandal remain on the horizon. Alex Cora is gone and not coming back, at least any time soon. The Sox aren’t as good today as they were a couple weeks ago. Probably aren’t really a World Series contender.

But come Saturday afternoon in Fort Myers, baseball will be back. For the fans of the game that’s a welcome arrival after what has been a miserable couple winter months for Boston and really all of baseball.

Maybe a few cracks of the ol’ bat in Florida – preferably without the batter knowing what pitch is coming -- will help break up some of the hate that’s overwhelmed baseball of late.

Maybe.

Related: ESPN: ‘It’s more likely than not that Tom Brady leaves the Patriots’