The NFL season is fast approaching and teams are already deep in preparation, with players participating in the usual training camps to bring up their fitness levels and work on plays.
It’s a time that the coaching staff hope will be free of drama and unnecessary distractions for players, but each year you can be sure of something that grabs the headlines and clocks up the column inches – and this year is no exception.
One of the current biggest stories concerns the Buffalo Bills and their wide receiver Stefon Diggs. As expected, Diggs reported for the Bills’ mandatory training camp on Monday and underwent a physical. This is a standard practice as teams’ medical staff seek to understand their players’ general health.
The problems emerged the next day when Diggs mysteriously didn’t practice with his team. Facing the press at a standard press conference later in the day, Bills’ head coach Sean McDermott confirmed that Diggs was not at the camp. He wouldn’t reveal any more about the situation but did say he was “very concerned”.
The team’s quarterback Josh Allen also addressed the issue on Tuesday, saying that the situation was “not football related” and asserting his support for his teammate: “I know internally we’re working on some things. Not football-related, but Stef, he’s my guy. Excuse my … I f*****g love him. He’s a brother of mine. This does not work, what we’re doing here, without him. But I’ve got his back no matter what.”
Perhaps pleased by this show of support, Diggs returned to the fold on Wednesday, seemingly bringing the matter to a close, but then Thursday’s planned camp was unexpectedly cancelled. While this isn’t necessarily unusual (camps are frequently cancelled, and often for totally innocent reasons), it’s added further fuel to the fire and McDermott, despite adding some clarity, hasn’t been able to explain the issue entirely.
“There are a lot of things out there that aren’t accurate [in what’s being reported on by the press],” he said. “He [Diggs] was here on Monday for his physical, reported for meetings, had a good conversation, and got to a point yesterday where we felt we all needed a break. We gave him permission, and he was excused.”
McDermott also confirmed that the concern he’d expressed in his previous comments was primarily due to Diggs’ importance to the team, and that could be what’s driving the situation. Diggs caught 108 passes and scored 11 touchdowns in 16 games last year, but his fine form hasn’t been enough to push the Bills to the Super Bowl, falling at the Divisional playoffs stage.
Certainly contracts issues are unlikely to be playing a role as Diggs signed a four-year extension last season, keeping him with the team until at least 2027.
Whatever the problem is for Diggs, the team’s fortunes rest heavily on he and the team working through them. It’s likely to be a long, hard season for the Bills if they can’t get to a positive conclusion with the player.