Earlier this month, the Buffalo Bills converted nearly all of the base salary Stefon Diggs was set to earn in 2021 to a new signing bonus, allowing them to pro-rate it over the final three years of his deal. It created almost $8 million in salary cap space for Buffalo in 2021, pushing those cap hits into the final two years on the contract in 2022 and 2023.
The move was largely possible because Buffalo traded for Stefon Diggs, and he had no dead money on his contract at all. Without large dead-cap hits in his final three seasons, the Bills were able to manage their 2021 with a little help from the future.
The move likely also takes off the table a restructure in 2022. Converting his roughly $12 million in salary to a signing bonus a year from now would clear $6 million in cap space, but make his 2023 cap hit prohibitively high around $23 million. Instead, it actually makes it much more likely the Bills and Diggs work out a contract extension at some point in the next 14 months prior to the start of the 2022 season.
Despite being named an All-Pro in 2020, Diggs is 19th in average annual salary among wide receivers. His $14.4 million average includes the money the Minnesota Vikings gave him before he was traded to Buffalo; a five-year, $72 million contract. He is going to make just north of $13 million in compensation in this calendar year. Diggs should want more money.
With two years left on his deal after 2020 and Buffalo’s cap-strapped position, especially taking into account a looming Josh Allen extension, the best way to reward Diggs while maintaining cap space in the short term is a multi-year contract extension. He just turned 27 and has played six seasons in the NFL. He will have at least two to three more solid years beyond his current contract that will expire before he turns 30.
A similar contract to look at is DeAndre Hopkins, another player traded last offseason, who received a two-year extension with his new team, the Arizona Cardinals. He’ll be 31 when his extension kicks in. The two years, $54.5 million is far and away the highest annual compensation among wide receivers, but the salaries the Cardinals inherited in his old deal were very low. The Cardinals look at it like a five-year, $94 to $100 million contract, which still makes it one of the highest WR deals in the NFL, but gets the annual compensation into the top four, not $5 million per year ahead of the field.
If Diggs were to sign a two-year, $55 million extension next offseason in a similar mold, he could claim to be the highest-paid receiver in the NFL and Buffalo would have him under contract through his age-32 season. It would also allow them to spread out a signing bonus cap hit over four seasons (two existing years and two additional years) with the ability to add in an option bonus in 2023 and further spread out that cap hit until the NFL’s salary cap coffers recover from the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns.
That four-year total would be just over $80 million for four seasons and in line with the Hopkins deal and recent free-agent contracts of Amari Cooper and Keenan Allen at the top of the pay scale.
It’s a safe bet an extension like this is on the minds of Diggs, his representation, and the team.