Vikings

Why Would the Vikings Trade Justin Jefferson?

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhere in a random basement, a TikTok creator known as NFLSkoopz69420 is rushing through a project. It centers on the uncertainty surrounding Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson and how they could trade him anywhere in the NFL without regard for cap space, roster construction, or common sense.

But while most Vikings fans have seen the video suggesting they have to put Jefferson with Patrick Mahomes or that he’s not going to play with Sam Darnold, there are more … let’s say, credible sources generating rumors.

Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio has suggested that the Vikings could trade Jefferson for over a year. He teamed with The Pioneer Press’s Charley Walters to suggest Minnesota would replace Jefferson with Malik Nabers (a rumor that ESPN’s Kevin Seifert debunked this week).

Vikings fans just want it to stop, but the rumors keep flying. Instead of purple smoke, trade winds are blowing at TCO Performance Center, and they’ll continue to gust until Jefferson signs one of the most lucrative contracts in NFL history.

Trading Jefferson seems preposterous to Vikings fans, but it’s realistic considering their history. Minnesota had one of the greatest receivers of all-time in Randy Moss, and Minnesota traded him as part of Red McCombs’ final “F-you” when he didn’t get a new stadium. Rick Spielman infamously claimed that he wasn’t trading Stefon Diggs or Percy Harvin — that is, until Vikings fans woke up to see a surprising notification on their phone.

But this time feels different than the situations surrounding Moss, Diggs, or Harvin. Moss was burning the final ends of Minnesota’s patience with off-field incidents and a lost 2004 season. Harvin needed a new contract and became a malcontent to the point he threw a weight plate at Leslie Frasier. Diggs took a more broodful approach with his discontent, and the Vikings traded him in the deal that ultimately brought Jefferson to the Vikings.

There was an obvious reason to move on in each of these cases. That’s not the case with Jefferson. In his first four seasons, JJ has shattered Vikings records Moss held that seemed untouchable. He’s also one of five receivers in the history of the NFL to have at least 1,000 yards in their first four seasons, joining Moss, A.J. Green, Mike Evans, and Michael Thomas.

Jefferson is the face of the franchise and, perhaps more importantly, one of the marquee players in the NFL. People break out “The Griddy” at midwestern weddings. The only way he could be more popular in Minnesota is if he went to school in Mankato.

Jefferson isn’t just a Vikings player. He is the Vikings. Commensurately, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has heaped praise on Jefferson at every stage of this negotiation.

Shortly after the 2022 season, Adofo-Mensah said he didn’t want to be the Vikings general manager if Jefferson wasn’t on the team. Adofo-Mensah doubled down at this year’s NFL scouting combine, saying Minnesota was “unbelievably close” to a deal before the start of last season. Then, after the draft, Adofo-Mensah said Jefferson’s contract needed an entire month to be celebrated.

We can assume Jefferson won’t announce his contract while riding a camel to OTAs. Still, we can conclude that the Vikings want to keep Jefferson around. So why the hell would they think about trading him? There are a couple of reasons.

The obvious one is the cost of the contract. The Vikings got out of one costly contract when Kirk Cousins signed with the Atlanta Falcons this spring. With Cousins’ salary off the books in 2025 (they owe him $28.5 million in dead money in 2024), Adofo-Mensah has successfully opened the rookie quarterback window – a magical world where he can build around J.J. McCarthy by any means necessary.

He started that process by signing Jonathan Greenard, Andrew Van Ginkel, and Blake Cashman in free agency hours after Cousins left for Atlanta. Still, the fun is just beginning, with $68.7 million in cap space in 2025 and $160.4 million in cap space in 2026, according to Over The Cap.

With this in mind, it might cause some to say Who cares? if Jefferson wants over $100 million in guarantees like SI’s Albert Breer suggested. Still, there’s also a careful balance between locking up foundational pieces and spending yourself back into salary cap hell.

The end of the Spielman era is a prime example. When players like Adam Thielen outperformed their contracts, the Vikings tore it up and replaced it. Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, and others cashed in as the Vikings tried to keep the 2017 group together. The team hung on for a few years too long, creating a financial mess that Adofo-Mensah had to clean up when he arrived in 2022.

A key difference in philosophies is that Adofo-Mensah craves flexibility. When Cousins wanted another payday with hefty guarantees, the Vikings balked and opted to dive into a deep 2024 quarterback class. Even going back to last summer, T.J. Hockenson had to engage in a lengthy hold-in – or an ear infection and a back injury – before agreeing to a contract that made him the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.

That might give the Vikings pause before handing Jefferson something close to $40 million in annual average value, especially with the increase in talented receivers entering the league.

Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, only 25 players have exceeded 1,000 yards during their rookie season. But 18 of those seasons happened after 2000, and 13 occurred in the past 10 years.

While the advent of the 17-game schedule has inflated this number, there are still more receivers who are effective from the minute they walk into the NFL. That includes Jordan Addison, who had 911 yards and 10 touchdowns during his rookie season.

That could be why so many people bought the Nabers rumor in the weeks after the draft. Even then, there’s a calculated risk. A player like Nabers, who caught 89 passes for 1,569 yards and 14 touchdowns during his final year at LSU, has the track record to be successful. Still, he’s just as likely to wind up like Laquon Treadwell, who caught 82 passes for 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns in his final year at Mississippi before catching one pass in his rookie year with the Vikings.

While treating the wide receiver position like teams treat the running back position seems like cheating the system, elite receivers still have value in a league oriented around high-powered passing offenses. It makes scoffing at Jefferson’s price a galaxy-brain moment, yet one that’s totally conceivable in the name of speculation.

In all likelihood, this ends with Jefferson signing an extension and the Vikings. But until he signs on the dotted line, analysts and enthusiastic speculators like our pal NFLSkoopz69420 will cling to the chance he heads somewhere else.

Vikings
The Vikings and Falcons Ended Up Indirectly Swapping Picks In This Year’s Draft
By Tom Schreier - Jun 20, 2024
Vikings
Michael Jurgens Brings Versatility To the Vikings’ Interior
By Matt Fries - Jun 19, 2024
Vikings

The Daunte Culpepper Plan Is the Best Trajectory for J.J. McCarthy

Photo Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

When it comes to quarterback development, there’s one plan that stands above the rest. The Kansas City Chiefs selected Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the […]

Continue Reading