Wednesday was a whirlwind for the NFL news cycle. The Kansas City Chiefs offered to make Tyreek Hill the highest-paid receiver in the league. Hill wasn’t interested. Talks stalled, and he was on the trade market. The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets lined up their offers, and Hill was gone in the time it takes for Patrick Mahomes to pull off a game-winning drive.
The initial reaction was shock. How could this have happened? How could Hill have wanted out? And how could the Chiefs just dump him for draft picks?
But almost six hours north of Kansas City, Hill’s departure creates a problem. And for the Minnesota Vikings, it could play out with Justin Jefferson.
In the past two weeks, two franchise receivers have found new homes. When the Green Bay Packers offered Davante Adams a similar deal, he told them he wanted to play in Las Vegas. Two weeks later, the Hill drama unfolded.
Hill was a vital part of an offense that had dominated the NFL. They went to two-straight Super Bowls and were on the verge of another. He had the best quarterback in the league, yet he still wanted out.
Adams was in the same spot. The Packers are coming off back-to-back 13-win seasons, and Aaron Rodgers is coming back. The team is making one final run at a Super Bowl. But Adams wanted to be a Las Vegas Raider.
The Chiefs and Packers made these moves for a pair of reasons. First, NFL players have followed the lead of the NBA. If you don’t like a situation, force your way out. It’s more important to have control of your career than place it in someone else’s hands.
But there’s also the financial aspect. In the case of Hill and Adams, both teams were trying to pay their top target while also paying a highly compensated quarterback. With Mahomes ($35.7 million) and Rodgers ($28.5 million) owning two of the highest cap hits in the league, it becomes harder to keep a receiver/quarterback duo in place.
It’s important to remember this in Minnesota. Justin Jefferson has dominated the NFL in his first two seasons. He is the face of the franchise. The Griddy is performed everywhere, from hockey games to weddings. He is an absolute superstar. But it means nothing if the Vikings can’t manage the salary cap and keep him happy.
In the first two weeks of the offseason, the Vikings haven’t shown much promise. The Kirk Cousins extension threw $18.7 million in void money to the 2024 ($12.5 million) and 2025 ($6.2 million) seasons. The front office is banking on the salary cap rising over the next two years, but it’s still concerning thanks to the rising cost of wide receivers.
Jefferson had to be smiling when Christian Kirk signed a 4-year, $72 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He probably started doing the Griddy in his living room when Adams signed a 5-year, $140 million extension with the Raiders. And Hill’s new 5-year, $120 million contract probably inspired some new dance that we’ll see next season.
Each of these contracts holds a cap hit pushing $30 million. In the case of Adams ($40.1 million) and Hill ($50.1 million), it makes it impossible for teams to pair them with an expensive quarterback.
With Jefferson due for an extension in May of 2023, this is a significant concern for the Vikings. Jefferson could ask for a contract in the neighborhood of $40 million per season. That contract could flirt with a $60 million cap hit that could further complicate their ability to build a competitive roster.
So how do the Vikings avoid the same fate as the Chiefs and Packers? By drafting a rookie quarterback.
This year’s draft class isn’t considered elite. The Vikings probably don’t have the draft assets to get Malik Willis. Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral, and Desmond Ridder have their question marks, and drafting a Day 2 or Day 3 quarterback isn’t likely to produce a franchise starter.
Even in the stronger 2023 class, it’s unlikely the Vikings will have a chance at Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. That leaves the Vikings hoping for a Joe Burrow-type prospect to fall into their lap in the middle of the first round.
Therefore, Jefferson will have to live through some growing pains or play with a late-30s Kirk Cousins on a massive cap hit. But this is where Jefferson can help out.
When the Vikings had Randy Moss, it didn’t matter who threw him the ball. Despite catching passes from Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn, and Gus Frerotte, Moss kept producing at a high level, and Minnesota was able to build around him.
Jefferson is the same type of player. No matter who the Vikings decide to take in the next two drafts, telling them to throw to Jefferson is a smart direction. If Jefferson is thriving in Kevin O’Connell’s scheme, he’ll be getting the ball enough to be happy. If he can elevate a rookie quarterback, Minnesota can build their roster without tanking.
It’s a winning scenario and achieves Adofo-Mensah’s goal of a “competitive rebuild.”
Within the next calendar year, the Vikings will write a massive check to Jefferson. But if they do this right, they could remove some sticker shock and keep their best player happy.