March 20 is one annual date worth revisiting. Harriett Beecher Stowe published her literary classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, on March the 20th nearly 150 years ago. In 1916, Albert Einstein introduced the world to his theory of relativity. Spike Lee was born on March 20 — Sir Isaac Newton died on March 20. Half a decade later, the world’s most famous humans — John Lennon and Yoko Ono — tied the knot on the same day. In the NFL’s historical lexicon, March 20, 2020 serves as a significant 24 hours for two other marriages — contractual bindings between team and player that will serve as a pair of the league's most formidable power couples for years to come.
On this day in the early spring, the Minnesota Vikings dealt away Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for a plethora of draft picks, including an important 2020 first-rounder that we’ll eventually circle back to. On paper, this transaction didn’t seem all that bad — Adam Thielen had slowly cemented himself as the Viking’s leading pass-catcher, and Diggs was outwardly frustrated with his treatment as a “number two.”
This wasn’t the only blockbuster trade that Friday — and hardly the worst or the biggest. Defunct GM/Coach Bill O’Brien the Houston Texans shocked the NFL world by dealing away Deandre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for David Johnson and a bag of cool ranch Doritos. If the year was 2018, perhaps this swap wouldn’t have fared as terribly — but an injury prone Johnson for a clear megastar in Hopkins (on a pass-heavy, Deshaun Watson offense, no less) had NFL writers naming this business move one of the worst in recent memory.
Diggs and Hopkins have — for lack of a better term — shat on their previous franchises. In comically similar and near-petty fashion, these receivers lead the NFL in receiving yards (945, 967), receptions (80, 77) and targets (110, 103) by a formidable margin (through week 10 of the season). Essentially, they have gone stride for stride en-route to becoming first-team all-pro talents.
This can be partially attributed to their raw, unhinged skill sets. It could also be attributed to their newfound counterparts — Josh Allen and Kyler Murray. Despite their contrasting physical appearances, these two MVP frontrunners portray a similar style of play — an accurate deep ball complimented by a knack for finding open space to run. If Love Island had a football spin-off, it’d be hard to imagine these two dynamic duos weren’t love at first sight.
Stefon Diggs and DeAndre Hopkins bid farewell to their respective organizations on a quiet morning in mid-March. Since then, their newfound chemistry in Buffalo and Arizona have been a sight to behold. Week 11 (11/15) was their first chance at a double-date, as the Bills and Cardinals squared off in perhaps the season’s most dramatic single contest to this point. With 34 seconds left, breakout gunslinger Josh Allen found Stefon Diggs on a beautiful endzone crossing route. For all intents and purposes, Digg’s lunging grab had all the makings of a game-winning touchdown. His March 20 counterpart, however, had far different plans. As time expired in the matchup, MVP hopeful Kyler Murray launched a cross-body prayer over 50 yards into heavy traffic. Professional football’s most technically gifted receiver delivered — rising above one of the league's best cornerbacks (Tre’Davious White) for a picturesque, 3-on-1 hail mary catch. DeAndre Hopkins' buzzer-beater snag will unquestionably be donned play of the season, but we can’t help but marvel at the perfect circumstances in which this battle concluded.
We also can’t help but wonder how many Vikings and Texans fans were tuned into the contest. Let’s talk about Diggs and Hopkins ex-lovers.
The man who (reportedly) threw Hopkins to the curb is now jobless, and for good reason — he sucks at what he does. The Texans have managed to keep their passing attack relatively solid: Brandin Cooks and Will Fuller V (Now suspended for the rest of the year) have assisted an assumedly helpless Deshaun Watson on a skidmark on an NFL franchise. The Texans are 4-7 through twelve weeks, mostly due to a sponge cake defense and non-solidified leadership and upper management (although it’s impossible to bash someone as lovable as Romeo Crennel). One would’ve expected the Texans to target Arizona’s defensive end of the ball — Chandler Jones or Buddha Baker would’ve been reasonable for a player as good as Hopkins.
The Vikings' trade with Buffalo was far more balanced. Minnesota’s struggles in the passing game look bad on paper, but this is more the fault of a two-headed clown fest by Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins. In actuality, the team up north has a bright offensive future ahead of them — Dalvin Cook is my midseason offensive MVP, and Adam Thielen has remained one of the NFL's most statistically reliable targets.
But what about that first-round pick that I mentioned we’d revisit? Therein lies the catch — the third piece of the Hopkins/Diggs puzzle. With this draft spot, the Minnesota Vikings acquired a player that is leaps ahead of the pack for offensive ROTY — Justin Jefferson. The destined LSU product has a stat line quite curious — while ranking only 34th in total targets (far from WR1 involvement), Jefferson has posted the ninth-most YPG and fourth-most yards per reception. If we’re looking to the future, perhaps Minnesota didn’t make a fatal mistake in cutting off Stefon Diggs.
It’s the start of Week 13 of the NFL season. The Buffalo Bills (8-3) sit atop of their division while the Arizona Cardinals (6-5) fall behind the Seattle Seahawks and LA Rams in the NFC West. The (steadily rising) Minnesota Vikings (5-6) and Houston Texans (4-7) search for answers. Among all other stats and outcomes, however, March 20, 2020 begs the question: were their answers right in front of them? The Vikings have amassed an impressive win streak on the shoulders of Dalvin Cook and Justin Jefferson, yet the Texans seem like the only link in this franchise four-way to have received no positive outlook as a result of that fabled day. Time will tell, but DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs springtime departures feel as important a series of trades as any in recent memory.