A Justin Jefferson Trade Isn't What You Think It Would Be

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

People who grew up playing the game Madden run the modern NFL. Head coaches go for it on fourth downs frequently. Someone runs a trick play every week. Owners have jacked up concessions to make more money. Teams have even moved across the country in the past 10 years.

In no place is the Madden revolution more evident than in franchise mode. Kids spent hours picking one of the worst teams on the game, trading everyone with a pulse, and loading up on draft picks and cap space until the Cleveland Browns or Detroit Lions got to the Super Bowl. There was some sense of internal pride when Jackson Duncan, the quarterback you took No. 1 overall and the first of your seven first-round picks, held up the Lombardi Trophy.

That sounds ridiculous to people who have never played the game. But Sashi Brown’s time in Cleveland was fueled with a similar “Moneyball” strategy, and Ryan Poles is doing the same thing with the Chicago Bears.

The latest example could be coming in Minnesota. With Justin Jefferson demanding to “break the bank” in his next contract, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must decide whether to pay or trade him to build a better roster. Vikings fans have been here before, but a wide receiver trade isn’t going to be as good as it seems.

Jefferson is one of the top receivers in the game and one of five players in NFL history to record 1,000 yards in each of his first five seasons. He’s the face of the franchise and has fans doing The Griddy during their midwestern weddings. Jefferson is a star, and you must pay to keep stars around.

But that has been a problem throughout Vikings history. Randy Moss saved the Vikings from moving to Los Angeles or San Antonio, but they traded him to Oakland. Percy Harvin was one of the most dynamic players in team history, and they flipped him to Seattle. Stefon Diggs caught the Minneapolis Miracle, and they sent him to Buffalo two years later.

Long story short? Receivers don’t typically stay in Minnesota unless they are from Minnesota. Their time becomes limited the minute something goes wrong.

For Jefferson, that came last September when he and the Vikings couldn’t agree on an extension. There was a level of tension as Minnesota stumbled to a 1-4 start, and Jefferson suffered a hamstring injury that wiped out half of his season.

Kirk Cousins tore his Achilles, the Vikings finished 7-10, and Danielle Hunter had a career year ahead of his long-awaited free agency. The season was unpleasant, and that has carried over into the first month of the offseason.

Jefferson wants big money and some security to go with it. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio reported that the Vikings are reluctant to give guaranteed money past one year of a contract unless it’s at quarterback. Therefore, some think it will end in a trade and theorize what Minnesota could get in return.

Colin Cowherd thinks the Vikings could use Jefferson to get the third overall pick in this year’s draft from the New England Patriots. Others see multiple first-round picks in the same way that people used to trade Moss for draft picks in Madden.

But NFL trades don’t work like the NBA, where the Timberwolves traded five first-rounders and half a roster for Rudy Gobert. You don’t even see Herschel Walker trades anymore where a team goes all in to try and land a superstar. It’s more cold and complicated, leading to many recent trades leaving people saying, That’s it?

When the Vikings traded Moss in 2005, they got the No. 7-overall pick, a seventh-rounder, and Napoleon Harris. They used the pick on Troy Williamson, and Harris only played three seasons in Minnesota.

Harvin netted a 2013 first-round pick, a 2013 seventh-round pick, and a 2014 third-round pick from Seattle. The Seahawks then gave Harvin a six-year, $64.2 million extension. That deal worked out better for Minnesota. Xavier Rhodes and Jerick McKinnon became part of a core that would reach the NFC Championship Game in 2017.

Then there’s Diggs, who the Vikings traded for a:

  • 2020 first-round pick
  • 2020 fifth-round pick
  • 2020 sixth-round pick
  • And a 2021 fourth-round pick

Minnesota used the first-round pick on Jefferson and got Cam Bynum in the fourth round.

Trading Diggs may have worked out, but other trades throughout the league haven’t panned out as well.

The Tennessee Titans traded a first- and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 draft for A.J. Brown. They used the first-round pick on wide receiver Treylon Burks, who only has 49 catches in his first two seasons. Tennessee flipped the fourth-round pick in a separate deal to trade up to the second-round for Roger McCreary, a starting-level cornerback. The New York Jets used the fourth-round pick from that deal on tight end Jeremy Ruckert, who has been a marginal player in his first two seasons.

No one involved made the same impact as Brown, and the Titans have since fired general manager Jon Robinson and head coach Mike Vrabel.

The Kansas City Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill instead of extending him in March 2022 and received a first- and second-round pick in that year’s draft. Trent McDuffie has become one of the NFL’s top young corners. But Skyy Moore, who Kansas City selected in the second round, hasn’t panned out as Hill’s replacement.

Still, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes, who becomes Jason Vorhees every time people think his team is dead, and have won back-to-back Super Bowls without Hill. But as Adofo-Mensah will tell you, the Vikings don’t have Mahomes.

The Vikings need star talent and an infrastructure that’s good enough to take on Mahomes.

The San Francisco 49ers were loaded at every position and had Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel at receiver. If Kyle Shanahan checked the rule book before the Super Bowl, there’s a real chance the Niners could have won the game in overtime, dethroning Mahomes and winning an elusive Super Bowl ring.

The Philadelphia Eagles took the same approach to get to the Super Bowl a year ago, using Brown and DeVonta Smith on offense and stars like Haason Reddick and Javon Hargrave, who coincidentally signed with the 49ers last offseason, on defense.

These are things that teams must consider before trading a talent like Jefferson. The Vikings have been adamant that they don’t want to rebuild, and many fans believe Minnesota will have to tank if Cousins leaves in free agency. But trading Jefferson could do even more damage. The Vikings would have to hit on receiver again and deprive a bridge or rookie quarterback of one of the NFL’s top weapons.

Also, who on the Vikings is a star who keeps opposing coaches awake at night? That could be a sign they need to rebuild, but Minnesota won’t execute that by trading Jefferson alone.

It creates a situation where the best option is to pay Jefferson and build around him like the Vikings have tried with Cousins over the past six years. It could come with some sticker shock, but the reality is that the trade market isn’t as fruitful as the one in Madden.

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