Justin Jefferson’s Absence at OTAs Underscores the Issue in Front of Vikings

Vikings Set Training Camp Schedule
Jul 28, 2022; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Vikings head coach Kevin O'Connell and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) talk during training camp at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota is currently the victim of its own success, as Justin Jefferson’s absence suggests.

Back in the 2020 NFL Draft, Rick Spielman laughed in real time as Philadelphia opted against selecting Justin Jefferson. The always-professional GM very gladly picked the man who’d make the griddy famous. Since then, #18 has firmly entrenched himself as (at the very least) being among the game’s best receivers. There’s a supremely persuasive case to be made that he’s the best, but let’s no go down that path right now.

Purple Headlines
Feb 9, 2023; Phoenix, Arizona, US; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson poses for a photo after receiving the award for AP Offensive Player during the NFL Honors award show at Symphony Hall. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, let’s deal with the situation that’s currently in front of the team: Jefferson’s absence at OTAs. The receiver has been so sensational that it’s crystal clear to everyone that he deserves an extension.

Per The Star Tribune‘s Andrew Krammer, Jefferson wasn’t at OTAs yesterday, joining both Dalvin Cook and Danielle Hunter as notable no-shows. The Cook situation is completely unsurprising given the voluminous amount that’s been written on a potential trade. Furthermore, the Hunter absence isn’t that notable given that we all know the stud edge rusher deserves to get paid. He’s entering the final year of his deal and will have just $5.5 million in cash coming his way in 2023 (he has a $13,120,000 cap hit, which is different than actual pay). Expect an extension to get done for the pass rusher.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions
Dec 11, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift (32) runs with the ball and tries to avoid a tackle from Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) during the second half at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Jefferson feels a bit different.

The 23-year-old (24 next month) is still under team control for a couple more seasons. He’ll have a $4.175 million cap hit in 2023 before his 2024 fifth-year option launches nearly $20 million onto Minnesota’s budget.

Both the Vikings and Jefferson want to avoid the 5th-year option. Why? Because both sides want the receiver to be in Minnesota for a long, long time.

After the season concluded, Jefferson confirmed that he’d like to be in Minnesota as long as the team wanted him. Since then, we’ve seen the GM confirm he has included his receiver in team-building discussions, a stunning admission given that such a luxury usually only applies to elite quarterbacks.

Per The Star Tribune‘s Ben Goessling, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah thinks keeping Jefferson abreast on the franchise’s direction is a good thing: “He’s aligned with Kevin and I and the Wilfs. He just wants to win. It’s the coolest thing to be around. So for certain, he’s someone we’ll keep in all our conversations. We treat everybody with respect and we understand we need their buy-in.”

Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) during the first quarter against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

What we have, then, is a team that wants the player to stick around and a player who wants to stick around. A resolution path should thus be relatively easy to walk down. Without danger? Not entirely, but a road that’s better to navigate than one that includes warring factions.

Minnesota’s job will be to ensure the money backs up what they’ve been saying. In the NFL, it’s the money that matters. Publicly praising someone as indispensable to a team while failing to let the money follow in tow is a surefire way to ruffle feathers. The best approach is to ensure the receiver’s feathers remain unruffled.

Thankfully, Minnesota has the benefit of great ownership that is willing to spend to the cap. Adofo-Mensah has proven to be quite shrewd and Kevin O’Connell recognizes that the offense begins and ends with Mr. Jefferson. Expect an extension to get worked out during the summer, catapulting Jefferson to the top of the receiver pile in guaranteed money.

Last season, Jefferson had 128 catches, 1809 yards, and 8 TDs. Needing to reach an agreement with the star wideout is – as Adofo-Mensah says – a champagne problem.

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