The Covid-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the daily lives of all Americans over the course of the last month. From 'Stay at Home' orders from governors, to working from home, to e-learning for students, it's forced a change in the way everyone approaches things. So it's hardly surprising to know that the way in which Covid-19 has compromised the NFL's offseason also played a factor in Buffalo's decision to trade for wide receiver Stefon Diggs.
Bills general manager Brandon Beane had known from the midway point of the 2019 season that his team's offense needed to score more points. He and head coach Sean McDermott had determined that a proven point producer was needed to lift the unit from one that had improved to one that was more consistent in finding the end zone.
The Bills sought out a proven wide receiver at midseason last year in the trade market, but Beane just could not find the right deal that made sense at that time.
Beane revisited the subject this offseason, and with the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States dramatically impacting all sports, he felt acquiring an experienced NFL receiver took on added importance for the Bills. This despite the fact that the 2020 draft class had one of the strongest collections of receiver talent in recent memory.
"Yes, the draft is stacked with receivers," Beane admitted. "But I think it became evident with what's going on around us now, that we don't know what kind of offseason we'll have. I just felt like it was going to be really hard, unless I traded up really high to find a guy that I know could walk in, day one, August 1st and be ready to roll."
Knowing Buffalo's current trajectory with a pair of playoff berths in the last three seasons and a much-improved roster, adding what could be a critical final piece had to come with as little risk as possible.
They did also explore the free agent receiver market, and even spoke with the agents for available players while working on trade parameters with the Vikings to secure Diggs.
"We were looking at the free agent market for a receiver, because, again, those guys would be veterans that we knew would be able to come in and understand our verbiage quicker than a rookie. So it definitely played into it, but it still had to be the right person, the right fit," said Beane. "You don't want to force something that you don't think is right."
Buffalo had already done extensive homework on Diggs from when the team had tried to work a trade for the Vikings wideout last October. Plus, Bills College Scouting Director Terrance Gray had been in the Vikings scouting department for 11 years, the last two of which were during Diggs' first two NFL seasons.
"We know the player," said Beane. "It's just a more proven thing right now, and again, what we're dealing with now (with Covid-19) did weigh into that. I know this guy knows ball and will be able to understand the verbiage quicker once he learns our system."
The steep divide between how offenses are called in the NFL and in college had Beane concerned that even a talented receiver in the draft pool could have a difficult time making a seamless transition to the pro game to be a consistent point producer for Buffalo's offense right away.
"A lot of the stuff from college is all signaled in. A lot of these (college receivers) aren't in huddles, so the biggest transition for these receivers beyond the routes, the physical stuff is just hearing these long play calls in the huddle and processing it all in their head," he said. "From as little as, do I go left? Do I go right? Am I on the ball or off the ball? Then they've got to start reading what coverage the defense is in to know what route to do and whether they have to convert.
"The mental part is so hard and that's why I think so many receivers, we talk about it all the time probably one of the higher bust rates across the league just because I think it's more mental than physical."
A recent study on the NFL draft, covering a 25-year sample size, showed that the receiver position had the third-highest bust rate of all positions drafted in round one. Spread out over just the past 10 years the numbers held largely the same.
That research combined with what is likely to be a truncated offseason of preparation only convinced Beane all the more to secure the player with a consistent track record of production with four seasons of work under his belt in the NFL.
"I just felt a proven commodity was worth this," said Beane of the four picks given up for Diggs and a late round pick in return. "The trade value of this move probably would've moved us up three to four slots from 22 might have got us to 18, 19, but that's not as high as I thought we would have had to get to in order to get one of those premier guys that I knew could walk in the door and be ready to roll."
Beane knows there are no guarantees in the NFL, but he feels acquiring Diggs was their best option to help push Buffalo's offense into the upper echelon of the league.
"Obviously, time will tell if this move for Stefon was right," he said. "Sometimes the best laid plans don't always translate, but we're confident and that's why we swung with a first-round pick. You know I love draft picks and that was not easy for me to part with a first-round pick, but at the same time I view (Stefon) as our first-round pick and I thought it was good for the value of getting a guy like Stefon."