Texans' Nick Caserio calls Stefon Diggs' diva rep "unfair"

From the moment that the Texans engineered a blockbuster trade for wide receiver Stefon Diggs, his reputation and fit in the locker room have been frequent topics of conversation.

Diggs’ role within the Buffalo Bills’ offense faded out during the second half of last season in the wake of a minicamp controversy over an excused absence. He previously asked to be traded by the Minnesota Vikings, the team that drafted him in the fifth round out of the University of Maryland.

One of the most prolific wide receivers in the NFL over the past four seasons, Diggs has often been labeled in some NFL circles as a diva. His relationship with Bills coach Sean McDermott had its ups and downs, according to league sources. Diggs frequently penned cryptic social media messages. And his brother, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Trevon Diggs, made comments about wanting him to get out of Buffalo.

At the same time, Diggs’ former teammates have consistently praised him for his prodigious work ethic, passion to win and cited their deep friendships with the Maryland native. Diggs, who keeps a tight inner circle comprised of his friends from his high school and college days, has already started bonding with Texans Pro Bowl quarterback C.J. Stroud with a recent throwing session on the UCLA campus that included wide receivers Tank Dell and John Metchie III.

Texans general manager Nick Caserio spoke for the first time Thursday about the Diggs’ trade, which included sending the Bills a 2025 second-round draft pick to the Bills in exchange for the wide receiver, a 2024 sixth-round pick and a 2025 fifth-round pick. The Texans also voided the final three years of Diggs’ existing contract and moved future dollars into a one-year, $22.5 million guaranteed contract that includes a $20.8 million signing bonus.

When asked about Diggs’ reputation, Caserio defended him and the Texans’ process that includes extensive research and conversations with coach DeMeco Ryans before making this power move.

“Number one, I don’t even know what that definition means,” Caserio said during a press conference at NRG Stadium. “We’re not worried about (the past), again, we’re worried about what a player does when he walks in the building. We do our research and we talk to players and other players all the time, our players. What is your experience with him?’

“So, we do our research and ultimately DeMeco and I sit and talk, and if we feel comfortable with the discussion we go ahead and make the decision. Candidly, I think it’s unfair to label anybody until they actually have an opportunity to walk in the building. Again, our environment is different than another environment, so we really don’t know what’s going on in 31 other buildings. We know what’s going on in our building. We are excited to have ‘Stef here.”

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On the same day that Caserio addressed Diggs’ acquisition for the first time, Bills quarterback Josh Allen and McDermott praised the four-time Pro Bowl wide receiver.

Allen said he can’t thank Diggs enough for his role in his growth from a raw quarterback into a Pro Bowl selection while throwing the football to the former Vikings standout, emphasizing Diggs “meant a lot” to him and how he will always “be the receiver that helped me become the quarterback that I am today, and I’ll always thank him for that for when he came in and how hard he worked and what he taught me along the years. It’s definitely hard to part ways with a guy that’s been very instrumental in our success here over the last four years.”

Diggs led the NFL in receptions over the past four seasons, finished fourth in receiving yards and was tied for fourth in touchdown catches He had four consecutive 100-catch seasons, tying him with Antonio Brown for the second-longest streak in NFL history.

Why did Diggs ultimately leave Buffalo?

“It’s something you may have to ask him at some point,” Allen said.

Although Diggs hasn’t held a press conference yet since he joined the Texans, those close to him emphasize he is thrilled to be with the AFC South champions.

Diggs has been training in South Florida this week while the Texans began their voluntary offseason conditioning program. Diggs, who joined former Vikings and Bills quarterback Case Keenum in Houston, is expected to take part in at least some organized team activities and a mandatory minicamp.

Diggs caught 107 passes for 1,183 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

In his first season with the Bills after being traded from the Vikings, Diggs caught 127 passes for 1,535 yards from star quarterback Josh Allen. Diggs had 5,372 yards and 37 touchdowns during his time in Buffalo.

Diggs’ production last season dipped significantly following the first half of the season. Diggs averaged 41 receiving yards and had zero touchdowns in the final seven games of the season. After the first six games, he had no 100-yard games and caught three touchdowns.

“When we watch the tape on Stefon and the playmaker that he is, we always go back to the tape and we look at a player in totality,” Ryans said. “We don’t look at this amount of weeks, or those weeks, we look at the entire season. We look at the guy’s entire career, what he’s done, how he’s been productive. So, we’re excited about adding Diggs to our team.”

When the Texans acquired Diggs, they made a huge adjustment to his contract. They eliminated the final three years of his original four-year, $96 million extension, per a league source. The Texans have now shifted $3.515 million guaranteed that Diggs was due in 2025 to 2024 and made this a one-year guaranteed $22.5 million contract that includes a $250,000 workout bonus and a $15,000 per game active roster bonus, up to $255,000.

HIs salary-cap figure for this year is $5.8 million.

Diggs receives a $20.895 million signing bonus, His $1.21 million base salary is fully guaranteed for skill, injury and salary cap. And 2025, 2026, 2027 and 2028 are voidable years with $30 million base salaries annually for salary-cap accounting purposes. His salary-cap figure for 2024 is just $5.867 million due to this renegotiated contract.

The Texans, in an all-in mode after this blockbuster trade and a spending spree that includes a two-year, $51 million deal for Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, have made this a one-year arrangement with Diggs, for now. Nothing precludes them from doing a new deal with Diggs, if things go smoothly, or moving on after one year should he leave in free agency. They have this year to build a relationship.

“Every situation is different,” Caserio said. “I think we evaluate it case by case. You have discussions with the representation and the player. Ultimately you make a decision that you feel was in the best interest of the team and the organization, everybody involved. That’s why we ended up where we are.”

The Texans were looking for an additional playmaker at wide receiver. They explored a trade scenario with the Los Angeles Chargers for Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen, who was ultimately traded to the Chicago Bears in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick. The Texans offered the Chargers a 2025 third-round pick and a pick swap, according to league sources.

“I would say I talked to a lot of different teams at different points of the year,” Caserio said. “I think we’re all open minded and just trying to look at opportunities that they may or may not exist. I would say that was something that like I don’t think we really were anticipating, but I think had some conversations at different points, and ultimately was able to come to fruition. We felt it made sense for us to pursue. Hopefully, Stef can come in here and he’s been a productive player, so hopefully can come in here and help our team in some capacity.”

Adding Diggs, who has 810 career receptions for 9,995 yards and 67 touchdowns has transformed the defending AFC South champion Texans, behind the strength of a productive offseason into a trendy Super Bowl contender.

“I was very excited,” Stroud said. “I met him at the Pro Bowl, got to meet each other, got to meet his kids and to see what type of person he was. Just been able to grow our relationship from there. It’s really cool just to be able to go from not only that scene to now, him being a teammate of mine. Just really excited to get to work with him.

“He adds a ton of value to that room. There’s a lot of wisdom that he carries that I think he’ll spread to the other guys. He’s been reaching out to really everybody and I think that whole room in general is going to be great. I think we’re all going to feed off of each other. It’s going to be very fun and very exciting just to work with everybody in that room and I’m very excited for it.”

When Stroud breaks the huddle this season, he’ll be joined by Diggs, Collins and Dell, tight end Dalton Schultz, who re-signed with the Texans on a three-year, $36 million contract, and former Pro Bowl running back Joe Mixon, who was acquired in a trade from the Cincinnati Bengals and signed to a three-year, $27 million extension. The Texans’ offensive line is led by Pro Bowl left tackle Laremy Tunsil, the highest paid offensive lineman in the game with a $25 million annual average. Plus, offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik and quarterbacks coach Jerrod Johnson are back to collaborate with Stroud after interviewing for multiple jobs.

“I’m very excited, I think we have a lot of potential,” Stroud said. “A ton of guys who have played a lot of meaningful ball. A lot of guys who can do different things with the ball, which is amazing. With all of those expectations, all the outside noise, right now is the time to focus. Right now, is the time to build the foundation and build the chemistry. Of course, Bobby always talks about, we’re thinking about doing the work for the end in mind.

“So right now, it’s just building that foundation, getting with the guys, talking about certain routes. I’m the leader of the whole offense and really the team, so even the things that DeMeco has been saying just to build that foundation and fundamentals and doing the right things, the little things the right way.”

Diggs got the No. 1 jersey after paying $100,000 to safety and team captain Jimmie Ward, per a league source, as Ward switched to No. 20, his number with the San Francisco 49ers.

The Texans’ roster is loaded, perhaps built to challenge for the AFC championship with other top teams, including the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and Bills.

“You want high expectations,” Texans foundation vice president Hannah McNair said during the NFL owners meetings. “You don’t want to go into something going, ‘I hope we just make the playoffs. I hope we get a winning season.’ You always want the expectations to be high. I think the fact that we’re in those conversations is a testament to the decisions that have been made over the last couple of years.”

From social media reaction to conversations amongst players, the trade has been universally welcomed. The Texans’ offense is absolutely loaded.

“Oh man, it’s going to be pretty cool,” Ward said during a signing for his children’s nutritional book. “He’s a great talent, He came into this league and did what he’s supposed to do, and I feel like DeMeco and Nick did a great job in going to get him and making that trade. And I feel like he’s going to make our team better.”

Caserio has a long background with Diggs. When there was no quarterback available to throw to Diggs and other Terrapins receivers during their campus Pro Day workout due to the previous year’s starter graduating and joining the business world, Caserio volunteered. On an overcast, gusty day, Caserio, then a New England Patriots executive, threw a series of accurate passes as he connected with Diggs and fellow wide receivers Nigel King and Deon Long. Caserio had a unique vantage point to evaluate Diggs as he was entering the league.

“Actually, I was there for that workout,” said Caserio, who was joined by Bill Belichick that day in College Park, Maryland. “Actually, had an opportunity to meet with him after the workout as well as part of our process. I would say that information is honestly probably more relevant than what information might be kind of floated around outside the building.

“As it pertains to him, he’s an experienced player, he’s been productive, he’s instinctive, he has good hands. Our system is maybe a little bit different than the system he was in in Buffalo, but he was as productive as any player in the league. So, might be some things that we’re doing that maybe are similar to maybe what he was doing in Minnesota. Good football player. We think he can help us which is why he’s here.”

Aaron Wilson is a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

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