Vikings

What Will It Take For the Vikings To Re-Sign Justin Jefferson?

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

I guess it’s time to discuss Justin Jefferson‘s contract situation again because major NFL media has decided that JJ’s decision not to show up to the Minnesota Vikings’ voluntary OTAs is news.

At this point, Vikings fans have been through this drill what seems like a thousand times. We spent last offseason enduring the same speculation and a deal didn’t get done. When Kirk Cousins was scheduled to hit free agency, talking heads constantly brought up the risk of Jefferson not wanting to play with a different QB. Unfortunately, this cycle is going to repeat itself until Jefferson puts pen to paper and Minnesota signs him to a contract extension.

I’m not worried about Minnesota’s ability to re-sign Jefferson. GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has repeatedly indicated that the team plans to extend him. Obviously, he can’t speak in absolutes. However, he’s been as strong as he can be without fully committing to something that hasn’t happened yet.

Unfortunately for Jefferson, if the Vikings want to keep him, his only real option is to threaten not to play. The WR franchise tag is projected to be $24.8 million in 2025, and tagging Jefferson twice would mean he gets paid $29.7 million in 2026. That’s a steal for the best receiver in the NFL. Minnesota could even tag him a third time for $42.8 million in 2027. Averaging those three years comes out to about $32.5 million per season, which would be a slight increase on the three-year, $96 million extension that A.J. Brown signed with the Philadelphia Eagles this offseason.

Given the franchise tag option, the Vikings shouldn’t be worried about losing Jefferson to free agency. However, the best case for both parties is a long term extension, which would make Jefferson happy and allow the team to clearly plan its financial future. So, what kind of deal gets this move done?

Let’s take a look at four contracts to help set the expectation for Jefferson.

The Highest-Paid WRs

Naturally, it makes sense to compare the highest-paid players at the same position to Jefferson. The top two are recently signed contracts by Amon-Ra St. Brown and A.J. Brown. The three players were drafted in consecutive drafts (Brown in 2019, Jefferson in 2020, and St. Brown in 2021).

St. Brown is a more direct comparison, given his age and contract situation. Brown turns 27 in June and is about two years older than Jefferson (25 in June) and St. Brown (25 in October). St. Brown also signed his four-year, $120 million extension after his rookie deal, whereas Brown signed his first extension in 2022 before getting another extension this offseason.

Here is St. Brown’s contract, via Over the Cap:

The first thing to notice is that St. Brown’s guaranteed salary only goes into 2025 at this point. He has rolling guarantees in his salary, which will guarantee his full 2026 salary and $7.4 million of his 2027 salary in 2025 and 2026, respectively. The reported numbers ($120 million over four years, $77 million guaranteed) look great. However, the Detroit Lions can save money by moving on from him after the 2026 season.

Brown’s contract is even more complicated. Here is a breakdown of what his contract looks like after his extension:

Before signing this new deal, Brown was under contract through 2026. Therefore, despite becoming the “highest paid receiver,” he won’t start to see that money until 2027, when the cap is projected to be $314 million, a 23% increase over the current cap. If you translate that to the current cap environment, it’s a $26 million per year deal.

Compared to the projected cap in 2025, which would be the first year of a new Jefferson deal, it would be $26.5 million. Additionally, only $16 million of the $92 million is guaranteed. Still, the key for Brown is that he got the remaining amount of his 2022 contract guaranteed by signing this new deal. That means every dollar is practically guaranteed through 2026. Given the structure of the deal, the Eagles would have a difficult time moving on early with how much money they’re putting into the future.

The Highest-Paid Non-QB

However, Jefferson isn’t just aiming to be the highest-paid WR. He’s aiming to be the highest-paid non-QB. That title currently belongs to Nick Bosa, whose five-year, $170 extension in 2023 is significantly more than all other non-QB contracts.

Here’s a snapshot of his deal:

Besides the per-year value, there was a big difference between Bosa’s contract and Amon-Ra St. Brown’s. St. Brown will have to wait until 2025 for the third year of his contract, 2026, to be fully guaranteed. Meanwhile, Bosa had $20 million of his third year, 2025, salary fully guaranteed at signing, with the remaining $10.5 million guaranteed for injury, and that became fully guaranteed via a rolling guarantee on April 1, 2024. Bosa’s 2026 salary is also fully guaranteed in 2025, whereas St. Brown will only roll into guaranteeing $7.4 million in salary in his fourth year.

It’s also notable that Bosa was working from a higher starting point, given that 2023 was his fifth-year option compared to St. Brown’s fourth year of a fourth-round rookie deal. Given those two factors, it’s likely that Jefferson’s deal will mirror or surpass Bosa’s, not just St. Brown and Brown’s.

A Recent QB DEAL

Due to the importance of the position, QBs operate in a different class from the rest of the league. From a monetary perspective, it wouldn’t make sense to compare Jefferson to any QB. However, from a structural perspective, I find Jared Goff‘s recent contract interesting. Goff doesn’t occupy the upper tier of QBs, but still got a great deal from a structure perspective, which can be seen below:

Similar to Bosa, Goff has a large chunk of his third-year salary guaranteed, with a rolling guarantee the season before to make that a full guarantee. Goff will also have $18 million of his 2027 salary guaranteed in 2026. The first out is after 2026, and it would be a hefty price tag to get out of with almost $50 million in dead cap after the $18 million becomes guaranteed.

If a quality but not elite starting quarterback can get a structure like this, Jefferson’s camp is likely to argue for a similar structure.

Projecting Jefferson’s contract

To project Jefferson’s deal, we can distill information from the contracts above. In terms of average per year, it makes sense for Jefferson to beat Bosa out, given his status as a player. But by how much? The salary cap went up significantly from 2023 to 2024, so should Jefferson’s new contract account for that when comparing it to Bosa?

If you take the other two WR contracts at face value, you may think so. St. Brown and Brown significantly outpaced the top edge rusher contracts signed this offseason — Brian Burns and Josh Allen. But Burns and Allen signed their deals as impending free agents who were franchise-tagged, so there’s no discount for a cheap year at the beginning. I mentioned that Brown’s deal is essentially $26 million in 2024 money above, and if you look at St. Brown’s total contract, he’s receiving $24.7 million per year over the next five years. Those both come in below the roughly $28 million that Burns and Allen each got. All four of these players exist in the space where they are excellent at their position. However, they fall a bit short of the perennial contenders for OPOY and DPOY, like Jefferson and Bosa.

Given that the four players above are in a similar tier, it seems that the league still values edge rushers a bit more than WRs. As such, I expect Jefferson to beat Bosa, but I don’t expect him to outpace him by 13.6%, which was the increase in the NFL’s salary cap from 2023 to 2024. The difference between the top edge rushers and the effective value of the Brown deal was about 7.7%. If you take that difference and adjust for inflation with Nick Bosa‘s contract, you get about $35.87 million per year. We can round that up to $36 million for our basis for his contract.

Now we need to look at contract length. While Bosa’s deal was for five years, that doesn’t end up in like with either of the WR’s deals. Only two of the 18 receivers who make over $20 million a year are on five-year deals — Amari Cooper and Davante Adams. Everyone else, including players like Tyreek Hill, Cooper Kupp, Calvin Ridley, and D.K. Metcalf, are on three- or four-year deals. The Vikings would almost certainly like to sign Jefferson for as long as possible, but he will be asking for a shorter deal so he can cash in again as contracts continue to rise. Therefore, I’ll project it at a four-year deal.

The next consideration is structure. In this case, we should lean on Bosa and Goff’s deal over Brown and St. Brown. As a superstar and former OPOY, Jefferson is in the rare class where he can demand a functionally guaranteed third year, with strong guarantees into the fourth year of the deal.

So, the Vikings are looking at something like a four-year, $144 million extension for Jefferson. If you add in his 2024 salary, the Vikings would pay him $163.7 million over five years, or just under $32.75 million per season. In the structure, I will fully guarantee the first two years of the deal and part of the third year, like Goff and Bosa, while doing rolling guarantees for the rest of that salary and the full fourth-year salary. That will leave the fifth and final year unguaranteed.

Now we have to determine the signing bonus. Let’s say the Vikings want to give Jefferson his 2024 salary plus one year of the new salary as a signing bonus, which would be $55.473 million. You have to pay a player at least the league minimum in salary, which for Jefferson is $1.125 million and $1.17 million in 2025. If you extract that and also include $500,000 each year in per-game roster bonuses, you get $52.9 million, which we’ll round up to $53 million.

One final touch is option bonuses. For cap purposes, these function like signing bonuses, but are set in the year that you place them. Bosa, Brown, and St. Brown have them in their contracts. For Jefferson, I decided to beat Bosa with a $16 million option bonus in the second year of the deal and a $30 million option bonus (and a minimum salary) in the third year. These aren’t really necessary, so you could just consider them as added to the salary instead. After that, we just have to project the salaries for the final two years, which I put somewhat arbitrarily at $26.2 million in Year 4 and $34 million in Year 5.

This contract would be reported as a four-year, $144 million extension with a whopping $109 million guaranteed, although only $87.5 million would be fully guaranteed, slightly short of Bosa’s deal. Here’s what the contract would look like on an OTC page:

Did the Vikings hurt themselves by waiting?

People, particularly Mike Florio of PFT, love to make headlines about Jefferson’s price tag going up as time goes on. However, in June of last year, I put Jefferson’s price tag at $35 million per year. While I added $1 million to that projection, waiting is hardly a massive increase or blunder by the Vikings.

For a player like Jefferson, his agency should try to push the market as high as possible. That’s likely the reason the deal hasn’t gotten done yet, even though the sides were supposedly very close before the 2023 season. Jefferson’s representation is likely asking for more up-front guarantees instead of rolling ones and deeper rolling guarantees than I suggested above. Still, it will almost certainly eventually fall in line with the Bosa and Goff deals.

In his negotiations, Justin Jefferson is, and always has been, competing against the best non-QBs in the NFL, not other receivers. He will set the standard for all players, and it’s going to be high. But for the Vikings, hoping to surround new QB J.J. McCarthy with the best talent possible, it will be worth it.

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