The trade that shook up the AFC East and put the missing piece in the Buffalo Bills offense nearly transformed another team in the division.
Sources say that when the Minnesota Vikings were poised to deal star receiver Stefon Diggs on March 16 in a blockbuster trade that included a first-round pick, it was the Bills and New England Patriots as the two final suitors.
Before Minnesota received four picks -- including a first-round pick -- from Buffalo for the playmaker, the Vikings called New England to give them a chance to match or improve the offer. When Bill Belichick and the Patriots declined, Diggs was off to the Bills.
In a rare win-win agreement, the Diggs-to-Buffalo trade was one of the key factors that landed the Bills in the AFC Championship Game against the Chiefs. Several sources broke down how it all happened this week, while Diggs -- the first-team All-Pro -- declined to reflect … yet.
"I try not to get too caught up in the past," Diggs told reporters this week. "I'll definitely think about it when it's over. Hopefully not any time soon. I don't want this moment to pass me by."
While Diggs had moments of frustration during last season for the Vikings, most notably about the team's run-first offense featuring Dalvin Cook, Minnesota made no moves to trade him. In fact, when teams called at the trade deadline, they flat out turned offers down (including from the Bills).
Then, at 2:46 p.m. on March 16, Diggs tweeted: "It's time for a new beginning." And teams began calling.
Minnesota never intended to trade him, but had a number in mind of what it would take if it did. At about 3 p.m., offers came in.
For the Bills, they had inquired about Diggs during the trade deadline during the season, targeting him along with Mohamed Sanu and Emmanuel Sanders. The Vikings said no. Buffalo had Cole Beasley and John Brown, but needed a game-breaker.
So GM Brandon Beane and his staff, which had previously done homework on Diggs, began calling again. Buffalo director of college scouting Terrance Gray spent 11 seasons in Minnesota and knew Diggs well. They called his alma mater Maryland and those who knew Diggs as a person.
What they found, sources say, was not a disgruntled receiver. Instead, they found a competitor who wants to win, plays hard and wants the ball, but mostly wants to win. They felt he needed a fresh start, but wasn't a bad person at all.
And on the field, Diggs was everything they wanted. While they were rebuffed at the deadline, it was different in March. This time, when Beane called, the response from GM Rick Spielman and then-assistant GM George Paton was that they didn't want to trade him … but would listen.
A few hours later, Minnesota determined the offer from the Bills was the best. Minnesota checked with New England, which wouldn't match. The lack of weapons for quarterback Cam Newton was an issue all season for the Pats.
And about 9 p.m., a deal was struck. Incredibly fast for a trade.
And Diggs became a rock star in Buffalo with 127 catches for 1,535 yards and eight touchdowns, with 20 catches of 20 yards or more. Meanwhile, the Vikings, knowing it was a receiver-heavy draft, selected LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson with the 22nd overall pick and all he did was become the only offensive rookie to make the Pro Bowl. And it was the 22nd pick they received from the Bills for Diggs.
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