Stefon Diggs trade winners and losers: Josh Allen, C.J. Stroud, AFC defensive backs and more

In a league that never ceases to make waves, the NFL news cycle took its latest pivot on Wednesday when the Buffalo Bills and Houston Texans agreed to a trade.

The Bills sent Houston four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Stefon Diggs, a 2024 sixth-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick in exchange for a 2025 second, the team confirmed.

The trade threatens to tip the balance of the AFC power structure, reshape at least two teams’ attacks, and bring all eyes to a receiver who has delivered loud messages on and off the field.

Take Tuesday evening, when former NFL quarterback Robert Griffin III argued Diggs was essential to Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen's success, and a user replied he wasn't.

“You sure ?” Diggs tweeted back.

Less than 24 hours later, Diggs was Houston-bound. Griffin’s argument, and Diggs’ question of it, will be put to the test.

But as a star receiver moves halfway across the country and conference, who now stands to gain and lose the most? Let’s break it down.

Winners

Stefon Diggs

It’s too soon to know for sure how bright, young offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik will employ Diggs and what form the connection with reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year C.J. Stroud will take. But Diggs’ trajectory in Buffalo last season was concerning. After posting 85.5 receiving yards per game and a touchdown in 59% of regular-season contests through three years, Diggs maintained that pace through the Bills’ first 10 games with 86.8 yards per game and seven total scores.

But after offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey was fired in November, Diggs’ production dropped under Joe Brady, who will keep his post in 2024. Diggs averaged 45 yards per game the rest of the year (43.1 including playoffs) and scored just once in seven regular-season games and zero times in two playoff contests. The Bills won six of their last seven compared to five of their first 10. While the attention he commanded undoubtedly helped his teammates, a player with Diggs’ vocal passion isn’t meant to stick with a team whose winning trends inversely to his production.

C.J. Stroud

To be clear, listing Stroud as a winner is not to suggest that he’s lucking into a good situation. As much as anybody else, the second overall pick of the 2023 NFL Draft has created the favorable situation from which he now reaps the benefits. His 23 touchdowns to five interceptions last year enabled the Texans to triple their win total year-over-year. Even so, what quarterback wouldn’t be thrilled to go through reads with Diggs, Nico Collins, Tank Dell and Dalton Schultz as options?

The Texans’ solid offensive line will give Stroud the time to maximize his receiving corps, and in a best-case scenario, an up-and-coming team will be the refresh that Diggs needs to channel his emotions to power his team’s competitive juices rather than fracture them. NFL quarterbacks often take a step back in their second year as opponents get a whole offseason to solve the puzzles they struggled to decode during a player’s rookie year. Adding a piece like Diggs, whose dynamic will both support and change the Texans’ existing structure, can help circumvent that slide.

AFC East DBs

Sauce Gardner and D.J. Reed, you can rest soundly tonight in Florham Park, New Jersey, or wherever you’re spending this portion of the offseason. The same goes for Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller in Miami, as well as Jonathan Jones and Christian Gonzalez in New England.

Sure, the Patriots might have reason to lament that a Patriots-bred general manager in Nick Caserio finagled a trade for minimal draft capital and a receiver payday offset by its rookie quarterback… and it wasn't their Patriots-bred GM with a rookie quarterback seemingly on the way. New England acknowledged its receiver need as the club pursued Calvin Ridley in free agency to no avail. Diggs likely would have jumpstarted their offense even sooner than Ridley (Ridley perhaps has more multiyear value) had they pulled off a trade. But Buffalo wasn't letting Diggs go to a division contender, so in all, the Patriots still come out ahead on the day. Defensive game plans are easier to craft when they don't need to account for Diggs.

The Process™️

This isn’t just the Bills’ Process™️ or the Texans’ Process™️. The Diggs trade actually reflects well on both of their processes, in the eyes of multiple executives across the league. “For Buffalo it’s an attempt to not make a 3 year project into a 5 year one,” one AFC exec texted shortly after the trade. “They gave it a run with that core, it’s old and (in) decline, [Bills GM Brandon Beane] prob felt like he needed to flip it to get a new group in with Allen to make a run.” Trading for Diggs served the Bills well in 2020. Trading him away serves them well now, executives from multiple teams believe.

In Houston, meanwhile, the AFC executive corrected the notion that Caserio’s Houston turnaround was quick. Improvement was steep last year; but Caserio’s first two seasons as general manager produced seven combined wins, a quarterback debacle courtesy Deshaun Watson and a lot of question marks. Now? His roster seems to have one of the best quarterbacks in the league, one of the best receiving corps in the league and a deep core of elite talent on both sides of the ball. The ceiling is astronomical; can Houston near it?

Losers

Josh Allen fantasy managers

I’m not convinced Allen, on balance, is a loser here, but not having Diggs as WR1 suggests his fantasy numbers are about to dip. That said, I think we’ll need to see how the Bills use his rare skill set, their run game and their new draft capital that could help replenish weapons before we say for sure that Allen himself took a hit by losing Diggs. Sure, he has one fewer explosive weapon; but also, if Allen plays less hero ball passing and wins more, as Buffalo showed a penchant for late in 2023, they may create a more sustainable path to the deep postseason route Allen seeks most – as was evident in January after the Chiefs eliminated his Bills yet again.

Allen, 36 minutes after the clock expired, was still staring into space as he contemplated another dream lost from his grip. So if a new recipe that spreads production and responsibility around the Bills can be more sustainable and more playoff-ready, Allen will be content. Allen fantasy managers, however, may pout. Stay tuned.

Teams with QB megadeals

They’re unavoidable but they’re also, in many instances, untenable. Teams railing about the salary cap restrictions, especially in March, draw sympathy from few. If you want a top (or even second- and third-tier) quarterback after his rookie deal, the cost will continue to spike so long as the demand for serviceable quarterbacks far outweighs the supply.

Which means hitting on a rookie quarterback is one of the best market inefficiencies a roster-builder can exploit, and now Houston is doing so. Sure, teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers could benefit from a talent like Diggs. Instead, each has traded away top receivers in recent money to save years. A deal like Houston likely sows regret into teams that didn’t go all the way during their quarterback’s rookie deals, and doesn’t make the Texans any easier to deal with as they rise up the AFC contender ranks.

The 2024 Bills salary cap

If you think the Bills just saved money by trading Diggs, think again. This is more akin to the Arizona Cardinals trading DeAndre Hopkins to the Tennessee Titans – a move that was costly in its first year before freeing up Arizona to now likely get a top rookie receiver this season (looking at you, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Malik Nabers). The Bills are eating the entirety of Diggs' remaining signing bonus this season, a $31 million dead cap that is the highest from any receiver contract, per ESPN Stats and Info. It will also be roughly $3 million than Diggs would have cost in 2024 if he were on contract. But by 2025, Buffalo can follow in Arizona's footsteps to eye a cheap and tantalizing prospect without Diggs money tying them down. Finding a younger receiver (Diggs will be 31 in November) without the history of sideline and locker-room outbursts should help the Bills … just maybe not as much this year.

Don’t let the $31 million dead cap in 2024 keep you from recognizing what Beane just did.

L’Jarius Sneed’s playoff outlook

The cornerback joined the Tennessee Titans last month after a trade from the Kansas City Chiefs. He knew he’d now have to face a division with Trevor Lawrence, C.J. Stroud and Anthony Richardson rather than Justin Herbert and whoever the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders were subjecting to their franchise rollercoasters of late. While Sneed has proven able to handle receivers of Diggs’ caliber and beyond, facing the Texans twice a year just got trickier as he and his teammates balance Diggs, Dell and Collins.

The route to a Titans division title also muddied with Diggs’ trade, hurting the chance for the Titans to contend in the next couple years. No doubt Sneed knew his chance of winning a Super Bowl dipped when he left the Chiefs; and no doubt the competitor in him will embrace this challenge. But the outlook undoubtedly just changed.

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