Vikings

What Does Building an Organization Around Justin Jefferson Look Like?

Photo Credit: Robert Hanashiro (USA TODAY Sports)

Following Sunday night’s debacle at Lambeau Field, the clamoring for top-down organizational change continues to circulate among the Minnesota Vikings fanbase. After falling to the Green Bay Packers, 37-10, Week 17 was the 13th time Minnesota’s defense allowed 30-plus points since the start of last season. In two games this season, the Vikings gave up 68 points and 968 yards to the Packers. As a whole, Minnesota ranks 31st in yards allowed. And for a franchise that is led by a defensive-minded head coach, it’s tough to argue that change isn’t necessary following these recurring woes.

While the disappointment of another unsuccessful season certainly stings — especially when faithful Skoldiers are poised for a potential rebuild — the Vikings are in a desirable position among teams facing potential head coaching changes. Last week, ESPN’s Bill Barnwell pegged Minnesota as the most desirable destination for incoming head coaches.

Make no mistake about it; there are areas that ownership needs to address for the Vikings to be taken seriously as a contender in the NFC. But with a roster that includes Justin Jefferson, Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Kirk Cousins, Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks, and Harrison Smith, that’s about as good of a core that any potential new head coach could ask for.

With the Wilfs currently standing at an organizational fork in the road, it should go without saying that the decision-making process over the next few weeks will be critical. And with the NFL experiencing a league-wide shift to the offensive side of the ball, most Vikings fans appear to be hoping that their team follows suit, prioritizing the offense with a potential replacement for Mike Zimmer.

With Jefferson cementing his status as one of the league’s biggest and brightest stars, Skoliders can’t help but feel jaded after watching fellow superstar receivers Randy Moss, Percy Harvin, and Stefon Diggs thrive elsewhere following their grand exits from Minneapolis.

But instead of living in our fears, what if the Wilfs recognized that Jefferson is the most important player on the Vikings’ roster? What if they decided that the future of the franchise will be directly related to who can bring out the best in their young receiver? After watching the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals emerge as divisional winners following the additions of Diggs and rookie Ja’Marr Chase, the league has never been in a better position to win games by prioritizing the best playmakers on the outside.

Let’s take a look at a potential blueprint the Wilfs could use if they decide to go all-in on Jefferson.

General Manager: Jeff Ireland

Ireland currently serves as the assistant general manager and college scouting director for the New Orleans Saints — a position he’s held since 2015. Ireland previously served as the general manager for the Miami Dolphins from 2008-13. Alongside general manager Mickey Loomis, Ireland has played a critical role in the Saints selecting the following players:

  • Andrus Peat – Guard (Pro Bowler 2018-20)
  • Michael Thomas – Wide Receiver (NFL Offensive Player of the Year 2019, First-Team All-Pro 2018-19)
  • Marshon Lattimore – Cornerback (2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Pro Bowler 2017, 2019-21)
  • Ryan Ramczyk – Offensive Tackle (First-Team All-Pro 2019, Second-Team All-Pro 2018 & 2020)
  • Alvin Kamara – Running Back (2017 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, Second-Team All-Pro 2017 & 2020, Pro Bowler 2017-21)
  • Marcus Davenport – Defensive End (7.5 sacks this season)
  • Erik McCoy – Center
  • Cesar Ruiz – Guard/Center

After inheriting offensive tackle Terron Armstead upon his arrival with the Saints in 2015, Ireland has helped build arguably the NFL’s best offensive line after drafting Peat, Ramczyk, McCoy, and Ruiz. And with Minnesota’s struggles up front over recent years, a GM with a proven track record of hitting on the big hosses up front sounds like the perfect remedy. Before Ireland arrived in New Orleans, the Saints went 25-22 (.532 win percentage) from 2012 to 2014. Since Ireland joined the Saints’ front office in 2015, the Saints are 71-41 (.634 win percentage) with four division titles in seven years.

And in New Orleans’ first season without Drew Brees, the Saints have started four different quarterbacks while also dealing with an offensive line that has missed Peat, Ramczyk, Armstead, McCoy, and Ruiz for most of the year. Let’s not forget that Michael Thomas hasn’t played a single snap this season. Despite all of that adversity, the Saints currently stand at 8-8 with a chance to make the playoffs entering Week 18.

Ireland has played an integral role in the Saints being a steady NFC contender over the past seven years. And with the Wilfs longing for the Vikings to be precisely that, it wouldn’t come as a surprise if Ireland is near the top of their list for potential GMs.

Head Coach: Joe Lombardi

After spending 12 seasons as an offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach under head coach Sean Payton in New Orleans, Lombardi is currently the offensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Chargers. First-year head coach Brandon Staley snatched up Lombardi to oversee LA’s offense when the Chargers decided to part ways with Anthony Lynn as their head coach following the 2020 season. And with Lombardi implementing the same offense he helped scheme with Payton and the Saints, the Chargers are currently one of the most prolific offenses in the entire league.

After ranking 18th in points last season with Lynn, the Chargers are currently sixth in points and fourth in yards, with Lombardi dialing it up for Justin Herbert, Austin Ekeler, Keenan Allen, and Mike Williams. And even though Staley’s calling card is that of a defensive mastermind stemming from his stint with the Rams last season, the Chargers are 26th in points, and 22nd in yards allowed this season. Los Angeles is in position to secure a wild card berth at 9-7, and Lombardi and his offense is the biggest reason why.

Offensive Coordinator: Joe Brady

Suppose the Wilfs decide to prioritize Justin Jefferson with their organizational shakeup. In that case, a Jefferson-Brady reunion will help ensure that the Vikings don’t have to spend a millisecond fretting over potentially losing yet another disgruntled superstar receiver. Brady was Jefferson’s receivers coach and passing game coordinator during their lone season together at LSU in 2019. Before joining LSU’s staff, Brady spent two seasons as an offensive assistant in New Orleans, working under Ireland and Lombardi.

When head coach Sean Payton learned that Brady was leaving the Saints for LSU following the 2018 season, Payton admitted he told Brady that he was making a mistake.

While the commonly recycled discrediting of Brady’s accomplishments at LSU — especially since he was let go by the Carolina Panthers as their offensive coordinator — sounds a little something like:

“Well, duh. He had Joe Burrow, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Ja’Marr Chase, and Justin Jefferson.”

Let’s look back at what LSU’s offense did with the players above in 2018 before Brady arrived in Baton Rouge.

Following the 2018 season, no one was banging the drum for Burrow, Edwards-Helaire, Jefferson, and Chase to be slam-dunk first-round NFL draft picks. Insert Joe Brady and his passing game concepts from Payton, Lombardi, and the Saints for the 2019 season? The results of an undefeated, national championship season as one of college football’s most successful offenses of all-time speak for themselves.

Jefferson has credited Brady and his Saints scheme with allowing him to flourish when called upon as a rookie receiver in the NFL last season. If the Wilfs want to do everything in their power to keep Jefferson from becoming yet another cautionary tale in Vikings folklore, bringing Brady in to recreate their magic from 2019 is the easiest way to do that.

By bringing in Ireland as GM, Lombardi as head coach, and Brady as offensive coordinator, the Wilfs can provide the Vikings with organizational stability from a proven contender while allowing Jefferson to — once again — flourish in the offensive scheme with the same coach who helped put him on the map.

At 32 years old, questions of Brady’s ability to effectively lead an NFL team as a head coach right now are valid. But with Ireland running the front office and Lombardi serving as the grownup with his 16 years of NFL experience, the New Orleans Saints blueprint could be the perfect recipe for the Vikings to become the NFL’s next offensive superpower by truly unleashing and prioritizing Justin Jefferson.

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