When the Green Bay Packers traded Davante Adams, it sent shockwaves across the NFL. Dealing Aaron Rodgers’ favorite target was sure to cause a rift on Lombardi Avenue, but the impact is just as great on the other side of the Mississippi River.
The Minnesota Vikings are running their roster back. Green Bay’s decision to trade one of the best receivers in the NFL opens the window to compete in a weak division. But the Vikings have a lot of work to do between now and the beginning of the season to make that happen.
The offensive line and secondary are just two areas that they need to overhaul. But if the Vikings want to compete, their best path is to select a receiver early in this year’s draft.
Experts haven’t heralded this year’s class as much as the past two seasons. There is no Ja’Marr Chase or Justin Jefferson. There might not even be a Jerry Jeudy. Therefore, the decision to select a receiver seems strange at first glance. But taking a receiver would solve several hidden problems on the Vikings’ offense.
Because Adam Thielen re-worked his contract, the Vikings still have one of the best receiver duos in the NFL. With Thielen on one side and Jefferson on the other, Kirk Cousins has a situation that most quarterbacks can only dream of. Kevin O’Connell‘s scheme should make things even better.
But drafting a receiver this year is more about what’s behind Jefferson and Thielen.
K.J. Osborn enjoyed a breakout season in 2021, but he’s unlikely to become a No. 2 receiver. Although he made 50 catches for 655 yards and seven touchdowns, his 1.30 yards per route run ranked 72nd among 75 receivers with at least 20% of the league lead in targets. Osborne averaged 1.61 yards per route run (33rd overall) as Thielen dealt with an ankle injury over the final six weeks of the season. However, it’s unlikely that that’s who Osborn is.
There’s a chance that Ihmir Smith-Marsette could be this year’s version of Osborn. His 1.73 yards per route run were second on the team behind Jefferson last season. But with just eight career NFL games, it’s hard to project him as anything more than a depth receiver.
The Vikings could go into the season with this group and be fine. But that’s not what happened when O’Connell was with the Los Angeles Rams.
Over the past couple of seasons, the Rams built their passing attack through the draft. Although they signed Robert Woods to a free-agent deal, they selected Cooper Kupp in the third round and Josh Reynolds in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. When Reynolds was preparing for free agency, the Rams took Van Jefferson in 2020. They tried to add another receiver last year when they selected Tutu Atwell.
Their WR strategy came in handy on their way to the Super Bowl. When Odell Beckham Jr. became available, the Rams pounced on the opportunity. A few days later, Woods tore his ACL. The Rams’ receiving corps continued to crumble down the stretch, but their depth carried them through the playoffs. Ultimately, Kupp was the guy Matthew Stafford relied on. But without that depth, they may have never made it to the Super Bowl in the first place.
Adding receivers has its benefits in the short term, but it can also help the Vikings plan for the future.
Adams’ new contract should be of interest to Vikings fans. The Las Vegas Raiders gave Adams a four-year, $140 million contract that will earn him an average of $35 million per season. That came off the heels of Christian Kirk getting a four-year, $72 million contract from the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Those numbers should have Jefferson doing The Griddy when he’s due for an extension next May. But it also creates a salary cap headache for the Vikings.
With another year of high-priced receiver contracts, Jefferson could push for a deal that pays him an average of $40 million per season. That’s a problem for a team that has handed out void years to keep the current roster together.
Minnesota has already pledged $18.75 million over the 2024 and 2025 seasons to smooth Cousins’ cap hit for this season. The Vikings have also committed an undisclosed amount in 2024 and 2025 to keep Thielen. While the Vikings can initially avoid any issues by backloading the contract, it creates a problem they can’t avoid.
The Vikings aren’t going to trade Jefferson, so the best way to prepare is by acquiring cheap talent. Minnesota already has a pair of serviceable receivers in Osborn and Smith-Marsette. However, adding someone with a higher ceiling could allow them to manage their cap issues.
While Jefferson gets the money he deserves, the Vikings could pair him with a burner like Jameson Williams. They could also add a receiver with a similar skill set like Chris Olave. Or maybe they look for another depth receiver in the second round like Christian Watson.
All three receivers could provide relief on the cap while also preparing them for life without Thielen. It may not be the most popular move on draft day, but the Vikings would be wise to look a little further into the future this offseason.