Vikings

The Vikings Needed JJ To Become Jets

Photo Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings celebrated Justin Jefferson’s extension with typical fanfare. They placed him at a podium next to Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell in a conference room at TCO Performance Center and seated his family, friends, and owner Mark Wilf along the wall next to the assembled media.

Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell discussed their relationship with Jefferson and how much he means to the organization, reiterating that they never considered trading him. Jefferson thanked God, his family, and the Vikings for the opportunity to become a football star and earn generational wealth.

“There’s nothing wrong with this organization at all,” said Jefferson. “I love every single thing about it. From the fanbase, to the coaches, to the teammates, to the owners that support this organization. Everything has been phenomenal.”

The way Jefferson said that first sentence stood out: There’s nothing wrong with the Vikings. It’s the reassurance anyone who has followed this team needs to hear because years of heartbreak have created a jaded fanbase. Minnesota is one of the winningest franchises of all time, but they suffer excruciating losses in the playoffs. There were Gary Anderson and Blair Walsh’s missed kicks. Brett Favre throwing across his body against the New Orleans Saints. Nick Foles beating the 2017 defense in Philly.

Part of the issue was star power at crucial positions. The Vikings haven’t had a franchise quarterback since Fran Tarkenton. Diva receivers forced their way out of town. A combination of parsimonious ownership and Randy Mossoff-the-field issues resulted in Minnesota trading him to the Oakland Raiders in 2005. Percy Harvin tossed a weight at Leslie Frazier. Stefon Diggs had a cough.

Jefferson can’t fix everything that ails the Vikings, but he’s part of a championship formula. He can help make things easy for J.J. McCarthy as he tries to become Minnesota’s next franchise quarterback. Jefferson opens things up for Jordan Addison and puts points on the board to relieve the stress on the defense. Ultimately, he allows Kevin O’Connell to empty his playbook and unleash his Sean McVay-inspired offense on the NFL.

“The pitch-and-catch factor will always be part of playing our game,” said O’Connell. “You can have a bunch of lines on a sheet of paper, you can run it against every coverage on a man and feel good about kind of the what and the why, but you still got to have that how and that feel between player to player.”

However, Jefferson gives the Vikings an opportunity to put all that behind them.

Adofo-Mensah mentioned that Rick Spielman drafted him in passing. “All the people in the football operation, player personnel that were involved in bringing Justin here, some here, some still not,” he said, “they deserve a lot of credit.” Still, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell took over, knowing that Jefferson was the franchise, and ownership tasked them with bringing out the best in him.

Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell ran back the 2021 Spielman-Mike Zimmer team in their first year together. But two years ago, they moved on from popular veterans like Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, and Dalvin Cook. Once Kirk Cousins signed with the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell had established their core. They drafted Addison and McCarthy. They hired Brian Flores to run the defense and overhauled it in the offseason. The Vikings are their team now.

Adofo-Mensah and O’Connell have done everything they can to win a championship with Jefferson. He’s the skeleton key that unlocks Minnesota’s potential and has the right personality to purge the Vikings of their demons. Jefferson is a transcendent receiver but isn’t a diva. He’s a game-breaking star who leads by example. He didn’t sign an extension last year and still played in a lost season after getting hurt. Jefferson is the rare player who relishes the bright lights without asking that they all focus on him.

Jefferson’s greatness likely stems from schools underrecruiting him. He was 6’2”, 180 lbs. coming out of high school and used to complain to his parents, who he credits with helping shape his career, because he wasn’t the biggest or strongest player. During Jefferson’s press conference after signing his extension, a reporter asked him why he wasn’t recruited more out of high school. Jefferson’s brother, former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson, said “grades” from the back of the room before his brother could answer.

“It had a little bit to do with grades,” said Jefferson, who couldn’t hear his brother in the back of the room, “a little bit to do with just not being fully developed. You know, I was very small, not really being that big, not really that fast, not explosive like I am now. So I definitely had times where I complained at my parents and stuff for not being the biggest, not being the strongest, about what I’m going to do.

“It was just all about being patient, all about just staying on the course and working my butt off. And then once I’d seen that I had that type of skill set, once I’d seen that I had the ability to go out there and play football at the highest level, that’s when the confidence started to come in.

“That’s when I started to be Jets.”

The last sentence is worth lingering on for a second. Jefferson has often used the “Jets” moniker, but people called him “JJ” more frequently during his first four years in the league. However, he’s repeatedly referred to himself as “Jets” this year because the Vikings drafted another JJ.

“He already let me know, ‘I go by Jets,’ so there is no confusion,” McCarthy said at his introductory press conference in April.

Jefferson said he’s been telling his parents he would be in the NFL since he was eight. Their reaction when he said that indicated that he was telling the truth. Jefferson knows he needs a star quarterback to be at his best, and McCarthy must pan out for Minnesota to contend during his extension. Jefferson has always acted like a superstar, and his play backs it up. The Vikings have always needed a franchise player who acts like they’ve been there before to take them somewhere they’ve never been. They needed JJ to become Jets.

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