On Oct. 6, 2010, the Minnesota Vikings sent a third-round pick to the New England Patriots for Randy Moss and a 2012 seventh-rounder. The SuperFreak was finally home! The Vikings were bringing him back after trading him to the Oakland Raiders in 2005, and he would be catching passes from Brett Favre. Excitment about the team had reached a fever pitch. “To all the Vikings fans that are coming out to the Metrodome, pull your 84 jerseys out, man,” Moss memorably exclaimed upon arriving at Winter Park. “This is gonna be a fun ride.”
It was Moss’ way of saying Don’t worry. I got this. It was a ride, but not in the way anybody wanted it to be. Moss caught Favre’s 500th touchdown pass in a Monday Night Football loss to Rex Ryan’s New York Jets. Moss led the Vikings with 55 yards in a 24-21 win over the Dallas Cowboys. But they lost on the road to the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots, and Brad Childress cut Moss for toxic behavior in the locker room.
That was a long time ago. The Vikings play in a glass-laden stadium downtown and moved to a compound in Eagan. The Wilfs moved on from Childress later that year and cut ties with Mike Zimmer after things got tense last year. They hired Kevin O’Connell, who Rex Ryan cut on Hard Knocks before the 2010 season, to exorcize the demons that had festered at the end of the Zimmer era. The result? Straight As in a recent player poll about everything from the training staff and team travel to food service and nutrition. The Love Boat and Whizzinator feel like ancient history.
There is one constant from 2010, though. Mark and Zygi Wilf were at Moss’ “get your 84 jerseys out” press conference. They’ve slowly but surely tightening the bolts on an organization that always had a screw loose. And the face of these buttoned-up Vikings? An effervescent 23-year-old receiver with braided hair and a million-dollar smile. Justin Jefferson wears No. 18, Moss’ number from training camp, and is breaking his records. Players around the league pantomime his signature dance. Jefferson is fun personified – a superstar receiver who’s not a diva.
The Vikings are about to pay Jefferson enough money that he could wake up seeking sunshine and an ocean breeze on Tuesday and jet out to the Maldives by Wednesday. But more than that, they’re letting him in on their decision-making process. Zimmer may never have invited Jefferson into his office, but Kwesi Adofo-Mensah says Minnesota will keep Jefferson “in all our conversations” about how they build the roster. “I don’t want to be the Vikings’ GM without this guy on our team,” he added.
Adofo-Mensah will ultimately draft players and shape the roster, but he has to craft it with Jefferson at the forefront of his mind. He’s the player who drives winning, a crucial part of why they won 13 games last year. The Vikings can’t tank so long as Jefferson is on the roster, and it sounds like he doesn’t intend to anyway. Therefore, he needs to determine what to do with Kirk Cousins’ request for a long-term contract and devise a succession plan. He will have to make tough calls on Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, and Eric Kendricks.
Ultimately, 13 wins set expectations for next season. The next step is assembling a team that can win in the playoffs. KAM and Co. are trying to create a championship standard for a franchise haunted by a series of playoff failures and has never won a Super Bowl.
There are times when the Vikings seem stranger than fiction. Max Winter conceived of the team at Moby’s a Block E bar. They’ve lost four Super Bowls. A Texas businessman saved them and then threatened to move them to San Antonio. There was a Love Boat incident. Gary Anderson was perfect until he missed one in the playoffs. Blair Walsh looked like a franchise kicker until he booted a 27-yarder wide left. They traded Moss in 2005, only to re-acquire him and cut him four games later. It’s been a fun ride, but it often ends poorly.
After their miracle win over the Buffalo Bills last year, the Vikings said their season was like a movie. And in many ways, it was. The wins over Buffalo and the Indianapolis Colts were historic. O’Connell’s victory speeches become must-watch TV. They crushed the Green Bay Packers in Week 1 and pulled off 11-straight one-score wins. But it ended in a familiar way. They couldn’t beat the Daniel Jones-led New York Giants a second time and left the field crestfallen.
Adofo-Mensah and the Vikings’ front office are working to allow fans to leave the theater in better spirits. They’ve seen an action-packed, drama-filled movie every year. But the ending is too predictable, and yet still disappointing. Therefore, he’s wise to not only keep his star happy but allow him to sit in the director’s chair occasionally. It’s easy to assume that the film will end the same way every time. There hasn’t been reason to believe otherwise until now, because it’s hard not to believe in the unbelievable when Jefferson is on the marquee.