Vikings

How Jefferson’s Contract Proved Stefon Diggs Wrong

Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Just over a month into the 2019 season, Stefon Diggs stood at his locker to talk to reporters. The Minnesota Vikings’ offense was struggling, and they had just lost to Mitch Trubisky and the Chicago Bears. Adam Thielen voiced his disdain in the hours after the loss. Diggs took it a step further by skipping practice a few days later.

Diggs was on the receiving end of Case Keenum’s “Minneapolis Miracle,” and he had signed a contract extension before the 2018 season. However, he skipped a minicamp practice in the summer of 2019. After that, speculation began to swirl about his desire to leave Minnesota.

“I feel like there’s truth to all rumors,” Diggs said. “No matter how you dress it up, I won’t be speaking on that.”

The Vikings traded Diggs to the Buffalo Bills the following offseason, but his quote lived on in Minnesota while another Vikings receiver’s fate was uncertain five years later. When all was said and done, there wasn’t truth to all rumors about Justin Jefferson.

Jefferson’s quest for one of the largest contracts in NFL history ended Monday morning when Minnesota announced it had agreed to a four-year, $140 million extension with the superstar receiver. The negotiation process took far longer than expected, but along the way, there were signs that the Vikings would get the deal done.

The first indication came after the 2022 season. Jefferson had just finished the third year of his contract and led the NFL with 128 catches for 1,809 yards. He was a crucial part of Kevin O’Connell’s offense and fueled the best season of Kirk Cousins’ career, mounting eight fourth-quarter comebacks, going 13-4, and winning the NFC North for the first time since Keenum was throwing passes to Diggs in 2017.

When reporters asked Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah about the possibility of a Jefferson extension after that season, it seemed like a deal would get done.

“You got a special player, a special person,” Adofo-Mensah said. “Those aren’t problems. Or at least those are champagne problems. So we’ll start there. … We’ll get back to [contract talks] in the planning. It really starts from the player, the person, and we’ll work on solutions from there on.”

At that moment, many assumed the Vikings would hand Jefferson a blank check, and both sides would move forward. But as training camp approached, the Vikings drove a hard bargain with several of their top players.

Cousins was the first in line for a new deal, but the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement. While Cousins wanted long-term security in a new contract, he described Minnesota’s thought process as going “year to year.” He played out the final season of his contract in 2023 before signing a four-year, $180 million contract with $100 million guaranteed with the Atlanta Falcons this spring.

T.J. Hockenson was another obvious candidate for an extension, but that process was as easy as pulling teeth. Hockenson arrived at training camp without a new deal and conducted a hold-in that included an ear infection and a back injury that cleared up shortly after signing a four-year, $66 million contract with just over $40 million guaranteed.

Jefferson was the last piece of the puzzle, and it felt like a deal would get done before the start of the regular season. After negotiating to the 11th hour, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Jefferson turned down a deal that would have paid him $28 million annually.

That made sense to Jefferson’s camp. However, it wasn’t common knowledge to a fanbase with abandonment issues courtesy of Diggs, Percy Harvin, and Randy Moss. Jefferson’s contract became a ticking time bomb. Rumors began to fly over how the team could go in a different direction.

The first rumor was that Jefferson was connected to Cousins and unwilling to sign with the Vikings unless they reached a long-term deal with his quarterback. While Jefferson gave Cousins a ringing endorsement on Christmas Eve, the team moved on from Cousins anyway, replacing him in the short-term with Sam Darnold and drafting J.J. McCarthy a few weeks later.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio speculated that the Vikings could trade Jefferson for a quarterback if Jordan Addison thrived in his rookie season. Addison had a strong rookie year with 70 catches for 911 yards and 10 touchdowns. The price of quarterbacks rose so high that FOX Sports’ Colin Cowherd suggested that Minnesota could trade Jefferson to the New England Patriots for a package including the third-overall pick.

After the Vikings went 7-10 and missed the playoffs, every hint of Jefferson’s frustration turned into a discussion over his new contract.

TikTok creators did their thing to fan the flames. Florio heard the Vikings tried to trade up for Malik Nabers as Jefferson’s replacement in the NFL Draft. SI’s Albert Breer reported that Jefferson sought over $100 million in guarantees. Vikings fans wondered if a big contract for Jefferson would allow them to build a championship roster around McCarthy.

Everything was on the table – until you followed what Adofo-Mensah was saying all along.

One month after Adofo-Mensah made his “champagne problems” comment, he said he didn’t want to be the Vikings general manager if Jefferson wasn’t on the team. Earlier this spring, he said he had no intent to trade Jefferson. According to Schefter, he backed it up by turning down all trade inquiries.

Even then, fans had visions of Rick Spielman bluffing about Diggs and Harvin’s futures, but it didn’t make sense here. While Harvin and Diggs were good receivers, they weren’t the best receiver in the way Jefferson is now.

There’s also the fact that the Vikings are trying to ring in a new era with McCarthy at quarterback. Dealing Jefferson would have allowed the Vikings to do a full reset but deprived him of the best target in the NFL — not a great way to begin McCarthy’s development.

But perhaps the biggest sign of all was that the Vikings love Jefferson. O’Connell designed his entire offense around him. Adofo-Mensah has complimented him at every turn. His teammates love playing with him to the point that Cousins tried to learn “The Griddy.” Adofo-Mensah said as much in his statement on Monday morning.

“From the moment I arrived in Minnesota, Justin has consistently proven to be one of the best players in the NFL on and off the field, and we are excited about having him as a cornerstone of our team for a long time to come,” Adofo-Mensah said. “He is the living embodiment of our culture with his joyful dedication to our process and our goals. We couldn’t be more excited for Justin and his family.”

Comments like these don’t get clicks, but they represent how the Vikings truly felt about Jefferson. This signaled that a deal was always going to get done, and that came to fruition when Jefferson signed on the dotted line Monday morning.

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Photo Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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