Sunday was a terrible day to be a Minnesota Vikings fan. In the early hours, it was reported that the Vikings would not be reaching an agreement on a contract extension with Justin Jefferson. A few moments later, trade speculation started to fly across the internet. The Vikings lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and suddenly we were all inside Jefferson’s head.
You would think that Jefferson’s brain is a cool place to be, because what about Justin Jefferson isn’t cool. But it’s not where Vikings fans should focus their attention. While Jefferson’s contract status hangs a black cloud over Minnesota, it’s dicey to speculate on what he is thinking and how it could affect the future of the franchise.
But the speculation began well before the weekend when Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio jumped on with KFAN’s Paul Allen. While discussing the possibility of Jefferson not signing a contract, Florio went into an alternate dimension where the Vikings could trade Jefferson to acquire a franchise quarterback.
I think [the Vikings] understand that you can’t consistently contend, [and] you can’t get to the top of the mountain without that quarterback. There’s nothing more blatant than what we saw fourth-and-eight [in the playoffs against the New York Giants]. Throw the ball five yards short of the sticks instead of throwing it to Justin Jefferson and let him go get it, so I think that’s the way the wind is blowing.
Florio went on to note in a PFT article on Sunday that the Vikings could have a potential No. 1 receiver in Jordan Addison to replace Jefferson. That would allow them to dangle Jefferson in a package to trade up and select a top quarterback in this year’s draft, such as USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye.
“[Addison’s] the new J.J. and then in comes the franchise quarterback,” Florio continued. “I don’t care how good your receiver is. It doesn’t do anything without a quarterback to get him the ball.”
Florio’s plan is flawed in that the Vikings would need Addison to turn into a star, and they would need the trade partner to be a bad team that already has its quarterback. There’s also the need for that team to be outside the NFC North (sorry, Chicago Bears fans) to make a deal happen. That greatly limits Minnesota’s options for a deal.
But there’s also the speculation that Jefferson is a ticking time bomb waiting to go off. Florio’s sources noted that the reason the Vikings couldn’t get a deal done was Minnesota’s reluctance to guarantee more than one year of a player’s contract in advance (i.e. guaranteeing Jefferson’s 2025 salary in March of 2024).
That could be the reason Jefferson doesn’t have a contract and T.J. Hockenson needed to stage a hold-in to get his new deal done. But it also highlights that Kirk Cousins was the only player who the current front office guaranteed a contract one year in advance.
Florio believes that the willingness to give Cousins that guarantee signals the current front office places more value on the quarterback position than the infrastructure around the position. Therefore, they could place a higher priority on finding a quarterback of the future than keeping the pieces around him in place.
That could leave Jefferson out in the cold and eventually make him upset. If Jefferson becomes disgruntled, the Vikings could trade him, and that would kick Florio’s scenario into high gear.
“The Vikings clearly aren’t sweating that possibility,” Florio said. “The failure to extend Jefferson could be the first step in a scenario that entails trading him to a team holding a draft pick high enough to deliver a franchise quarterback to the Vikings.”
With this in mind, fans will place every move Jefferson makes from now until he signs a contract under a microscope. People saw Jefferson’s cross-body block on Christian Izien after a second-quarter interception as frustration. Jefferson’s lack of targets in the second half of Sunday’s loss seemed to make the fire burn even brighter. The CBS cameras showed him brooding on the bench by himself as the game came to a close.
That image triggers the baggage Vikings fans have who saw Randy Moss, Percy Harvin, and Stefon Diggs star for the Vikings before they were traded. But instead of diving into Jefferson’s mind to decipher what he could be thinking, it’s better to read the situation.
Outside of missing OTAs, Jefferson had perfect attendance during the offseason. He easily could have used Hockenson’s playbook to get a new contract, but Jefferson took every snap, knowing he was risking injury.
While Jefferson said he wanted to get a contract done by Week 1, it doesn’t flip the hourglass for his time in Minnesota. And it certainly doesn’t follow the path that other receivers have taken on their way out of town.
- Randy Moss was coming off his “disgusting act” and several off-field incidents before the Vikings traded him to the Oakland Raiders.
- Percy Harvin showed signs of conflict with Brad Childress and threw a weight plate at Leslie Frazier before the Vikings traded him to the Seattle Seahawks.
- Then there’s Stefon Diggs, who skipped OTAs, blasted the offense after a loss in Chicago, skipped practice due to a cold, told reporters there is truth to all rumors and sent out about 500 subtweets before Minnesota traded him to the Buffalo Bills.
Could this happen in the future? Absolutely. Is it fair to Jefferson to assume this will happen? Absolutely not.
So this is where Vikings fans are at. Jefferson isn’t getting his extension and Minnesota will likely to try to play out the season. That time will be filled with ominous clips and trying to read the lines. But we don’t know what Jefferson is thinking, and it’s not fair to assume he’ll follow the same path as the great Vikings receivers before him.