The Bills would not have won on Sunday without the exchange of Stefon Diggs. Diggs’ four catches for 49 yards and one against the Rams don’t jump from the box – three Bills had more receiving yards – but Buffalo wouldn’t have beaten Los Angeles without him. Sometimes it’s not about the quantity of games, it’s just the quality.
Diggs beat Jalen Ramsey one-on-one for a third touchdown and a 4-yard line goal, reading the pitch with the same eyes as Josh Allen, just before Allen was tagged by Aaron Donald. The chemistry of Diggs and Allen was notable for the speed with which it developed. Many of Allen’s best shots this season have come out of the structure, with Diggs figuring out where his quarterback needed him.
In the fourth quarter, Diggs slowed Rams corner Darious Williams, waiting until the last moment to reach out for a nice 23-yard tactile pass from Allen. In the third and 25th and with the Bills just 31 seconds away from officially gagging their biggest lead in franchise history, Diggs found a weak spot in the Rams’ zone to scoop up 17 yards and set up a manageable fourth down. .
Part of his worth is Diggs’ ability to often attract defenders of Ramsey’s caliber. On a day when John Brown left with an early injury, Diggs’ presence opened the field for Gabriel Davis (four catches, 81 yards) and Cole Beasley (six catches for 100 yards). Unlike the rest of the Bills’ pass-catchers or runners, Diggs must be planned by the opposition. For three weeks, his numbers (20 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns) are screaming real receiver # 1 in a way they rarely did in Minnesota, despite its superlative game. We thank GM Brandon Beane for understanding what this Bills offense needed – and Credit Offensive Coordinator Brian Daboll for seeing the vision to use Diggs properly.
In his deal with the Vikings, Beane gave up a first round plus a fourth, fifth and sixth round pick in exchange for Diggs and a seventh on March 16. It was a hefty price tag, but the Bills didn’t need to draft another promising young player to develop. They have a lot of them. They needed a proven playmaker who could help their young quarterback reach his full potential now, for a run in the playoffs. These types of players are sometimes hard to bring to Buffalo, and they’re even harder to find in the draft. Allen and Daboll deserve the most credit for the Bills’ quick 3-0 start to the season, but Diggs was the missing piece to their offense. He certainly missed Minnesota.
Trent Williams is Cam Newton of the NFC. Much has been written that the whole NFL – including the Patriots – didn’t particularly want Cam Newton. If it’s a crime against football to let Bill Belichick take on another franchise quarterback for the price of a Hoyer, what about the rest of the NFL allowing the most talented team and toughest in football to acquire the worst left tackle for peanuts?
High-quality left-wing tackles are perhaps the most difficult asset to find in the NFL, outside of a franchise quarterback. The 49ers went from a low-cost retired Joe Staley to a 2020 fifth-round pick and a 2021 third-round pick. The 32-year-old is a free agent after the season, but he should be remembered that 32 is not so old in the years of legendary left tackle.
There is a larger debate to be had about the effectiveness of trading choices for proven NFL talent. The Rams have taken this model to the extreme, for the most part with good results. The 49ers have been on both sides of the equation, ceding the draft capital to Kansas City to Dee Ford while sending DeForest Buckner to Indianapolis. In Williams’ case, the juice is definitely worth a squeeze when it didn’t even include a pick that could make it into the top 75 caps. Ten tackles have a higher cap number than Williams this season, so he’s not even particularly expensive.
Don’t sleep on how remarkable these 49ers zombies were. I don’t care how bad the New York football teams are; to dominate two games by a combined score of 67-22 with mostly saves, as the Niners just did to the Jets and Giants, is an impressive display of organizational strength. Even with all the 49ers missing, they still have a few dominant players left, like their tackle combination (Williams and 26-year-old right tackle Mike McGlinchey, a 2018 first-round pick) and 23-year-old middle linebacker Fred Warner, a third round in 2018. John Lynch deserves credit for those draft picks and for his aggressive decision to maximize that Super Bowl window. Kyle Shanahan also deserves credit for endorsing Lynch for the GM role, as well as concocting an effective offense led by Mullens, 2020 first-round pick Brandon Aiyuk and running back Jerick McKinnon.
Maybe the 49ers will never be healthy this season; I have never seen a team so decimated. But aside from Nick Bosa (out for the year with a torn ACL), most of the starters are expected to return to the pitch eventually. When the 49ers become ‘The Team Nobody Wants To Face’ in January, remember that first part where they managed their schedule despite every reason to implode. Also remember the trade Lynch pulled off on the NFL Draft weekend, when one of football’s top left tackles was available for a song.