Window to Extend Justin Jefferson Officially Opens

Per Field Yates, the window to extend Justin Jefferson has officially opened.

Obviously, the intense negotiations are only going to get going once the postseason is done for Minnesota. The team has more important matters to focus on; their 13-4 regular season record gives them a shot in the final tournament. Jefferson – like his teammates – will be putting his efforts into preparing for the New York Giants, the Vikings’ Wild Card opponent.

Even still, it’s a notable day for Minnesota and Jefferson.

By this point, you know the story. Justin Jefferson has put up historically-great numbers in his opening three seasons in the NFL, thus distinguishing himself as the game’s preeminent receiving option. He has done so while only being 23-years-old, meaning there is the potential for him to continue being remarkably dominant for several more years.

The Need to Extend Justin Jefferson

Previously, I speculated that the Vikings would hand out a deal that offers Jefferson $80 million (or more) guaranteed. Keep in mind that that’s only the guarantees, not the full value of his deal. In reality, he’ll be signing an extension that likely goes for a few years beyond the 2024 season. The annual average is likely to exceed $30 million per season.

Now, there might be some hand-wringing among Vikings fans when they see such gaudy numbers. Allow me to assuage some of those concerns.

Week 16 NFL Playoff Picture
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

In 2023, Justin Jefferson’s cap hit is likely to be very small. He currently carries a hit coming in below $4.2 million, an artificially low number since it’s merely the backend of a rookie deal. An extension might raise that amount, but probably not by too much.

The simple truth is that Jefferson has earned far more money than what he’s being paid. Don’t lose sight of that fact, folks: Jefferson is going to get paid a ton because he has earned that large amount. Elite play deserves elite money.

In 2022, Jefferson was on top of the NFL in catches (128) and receiving yards (1809). Part of what makes the totals so impressive is that he averaged 14.1 yards per reception. Quite often, Kevin O’Connell relied on his WR1 to make plays in the short area of the field, bringing the average down. For context, Cooper Kupp averaged 13.4 yards over his 145 catches in 2021; in his 149-catch season, Michael Thomas averaged 11.6 yards per reception.

The point is that Jefferson managed to be an explosive receiving threat while still fulfilling the role of possession receiver at various points.

Nov 6, 2022; Landover, Maryland, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) celebrates with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is going to have a challenging time during the offseason. Regardless of what occurs in the playoffs, it’d be hard to argue that his first year as a GM has gone poorly. He inherited a roster with a lot of older talent, a very snug budget, and some recent futility in football purgatory. He re-tooled on the fly, helping push this team to 13-4.

One of the most important things he’ll do in the offseason is the extension for Jefferson.

Of course, no one is making either side reach a new deal. There is a small possibility that #18 goes into the next season without a new deal. The reigning wisdom, though, suggests that Jefferson will look to lock-in some life-changing money during the offseason. Three truly elite seasons have given him the right to go to the negotiation table with a lot of leverage.

Adofo-Mensah will need to find a way of taking care of his best player while also keeping his team in a spot to be able to compensate other star players.

For now, the focus is on the Giants, a team that nearly brought Minnesota down in Week 16. Brian Daboll’s squad will be looking for some revenge, and it’s very plausible that they pull off the upset in the Wild Card Round. As a result, all of Minnesota’s focus needs to be on finding immediate success on the field.

Whenever the football stops, though, know that Jefferson’s new contract (assuming there will be one) is going be atop the priority pile for the Vikings’ leadership.

A dominant postseason from #18 that helps propel Minnesota to its first ever Super Bowl would be simply one more reason for Adofo-Mensah to sign Jefferson to a monstrous deal.

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.