The year is 2037. We’re at Stogies on Grand. Justin Jefferson takes a long drag on his Partagas Lusitania. A ring on his right hand clinks against a glass of Maker’s sitting next to him. He exhales.
“I could have gone anywhere,” he says, chuckling. “But I wanted to finish my career with the Minnesota Vikings.”
This is the dream, right? Jefferson hangs up his cleats in his late-30s, having reeled in touchdown passes in Minneapolis for nearly two decades. He’s outlasted Kirk Cousins and Mike Zimmer’s run-first offense. He’s been a mentor to young receivers, as Adam Thielen was to him when he arrived.
So how do we make this happen? Thielen can help, of course. But for a task like this, the Vikings need to bring in reinforcements. Specifically, I’m thinking of a 38-year-old free agent with ties to the Twin Cities. You guessed it: One Larry Darnell Fitzgerald Jr.
Bringing in Larry Fitzgerald isn’t a novel idea. The Vikings need a third receiver, he’d be a veteran presence on a young offense, and it would hit home sentimentally to see him retire in purple. But he’d have an outstanding influence on Jefferson, specifically.
Who would be a better influence on the man who just shattered Randy Moss’s rookie records?
Fitzgerald is loyal. He has played all 17 years of his career with the Arizona Cardinals, hardly a historic franchise like the Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots. They have only made the playoffs four times since he’s been there, and their only true run was in 2008 when they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.
It’s not as though they’ve had bad playoff luck, either. Fitzgerald may have caught passes from Kurt Warner and Carson Palmer, but it was pretty rough in between. He had the Derek Anderson–John Skelton–Max Hall season in 2010; Kevin Kolb and Skelton split starts the next year; and Skelton, Kolb, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer all got starts in 2012.
Jefferson may have been caught on camera demanding that Kirk Cousins throw him the ball, but no matter what you think of Cousins, he’s better than any of those quarterbacks by a significant measure. Many receivers would have pushed their way out. Fitzgerald stayed in the desert.
Not only that, but he’s been a consummate professional. Imagine if Stefon Diggs, Moss, or any other great receiver got stuck with Skelton, Kolb, and Lindley. Diggs would have hacked up a lung at every practice. Moss would have done his Rodney Dangerfield routine after every team meal.
But Fitzgerald was rarely negative about his situation in Arizona, patiently waiting out quarterback after quarterback until Palmer arrived. Jefferson provided tacit approval of a Cousins succession plan in a recent interview with Colin Cowherd, but downplayed his outburst at Cousins last season and has otherwise been content in Minnesota. He’s not wrong to demand great quarterback play — it would be a shame not to see his potential maximized every year — but it would be great if he emulated Fitzgerald’s approach to team frustrations throughout his career.
He had to have some good fortune to play as long as he did, but luck alone doesn’t explain how Fitzgerald started 13 games last season. Like many older athletes, Fitzgerald developed and honed a training routine that has kept him on the field. He’s only missed nine games in his career.
Based on everything we know, Jefferson puts in time off the field. But even the best receivers can fall victim to the wear and tear of football over the course of their carer. He has the ability to be great into his 30s, and there’s no harm in connecting him with a receiver who has done that with aplomb.
Finally, Fitzgerald is One of Us. Despite playing out his entire career in Arizona so far, he’s rooted in Minnesota. Want to keep Jefferson in purple? Put Fitzgerald in the same receivers room as Thielen and keep whoever it was that was negatively influencing Danielle Hunter out of earshot. Have Fitzgerald grab him a burger at Blue Door or take him fishing on Mille Lacs. Whatever it takes to keep him out of a New England Patriots uniform.
Look, I’m not sure if Jefferson will be sitting in a smoke shop off of Grand Ave. 16 years from now, pontificating about his career with the Vikings. For all we know, he’s not into cigars and prefers scotch. But he’s a special talent, and Minnesota should be going all out to keep him here. Bringing in Fitzgerald can only help their cause.