Justin Jefferson Just Described His Battle with Impatience. Are the Vikings Listening?

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Success with the Minnesota Vikings begins and ends with Justin Jefferson.

Yes, they were able to rattle off some sensational football while the WR1 was recovering from his hamstring ailment, but that doesn’t diminish the obvious: the 24-year-old receiver is Minnesota’s undisputed most important player. The cornerstone player is staring down just a single season more on his contract (check out the failed extension timeline).

Dec 24, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell and wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and linebacker Ivan Pace Jr. (40) react near the end of the game during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Now, there’s very little reason to take leave of our senses by sounding the catastrophe alarm. Both sides have been resolute in their commitment to finding a mutually-beneficial solution. Or, put differently, a record-breaking contract that still allows for the Vikings to keep grafting high-end talent onto the roster.

Nevertheless, the recent words from Mr. Jefferson should cause everyone in Eagan to perk up a bit.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Jefferson had this to say when asked about what he learned about himself: “Yeah, I had to learn patience, for one.” Not too long afterwards, Jefferson reflected on needing to “take that backseat for a while” since he was absent for seven games.

Justin Jefferson, Strained Patience, and The Need for an Urgent Franchise

Everyone has experienced at least some frustration with the Minnesota Vikings in 2023. The Wilfs, the front office, the coaching staff, the players, and the fans are all in the same boat. The past season has been a rocky one.

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
Oct 1, 2023; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Minnesota Vikings fans clap during the second half against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The challenge that was in front of Jefferson, though, was particularly discouraging.

He had never had to miss a huge chunk of time in either his collegiate or NFL careers, so the Week 5 hamstring pull was uncharted territory. Jefferson’s response helps to illuminate the difficulty of that portion of his career and how he responded by leaning on those he was close with — family, friends, teammates — to work through the adversity.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 10, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Jordan Addison (3) reacts with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) after scoring his first career touchdown pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins (not pictured) against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, there’s not a single thing wrong with his answer. In fact, Jefferson basically offered up a perfect answer, and yet it’s one that should create a strong sense of urgency within Minnesota’s organization.

Players like Jefferson don’t come around very often. A top-10 NFL player overall (top-5?), Jefferson has been consistently outspoken about his desire to win above all else. Yes, he has individual goals, but those walk hand-in-hand with the team’s goals. Jefferson producing at an exceptional level will help to propel Minnesota toward its ultimate team goal.

What can’t happen is a team that gets complacent. Jefferson’s Vikings have gone 7-9 (2020), 8-9 (2021), 13-4 (2022), and then will finish either 8-9 or 7-10 in 2023. The competitor is very rightly going to be expecting more in the coming seasons.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Jan 9, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and tight end Tyler Conklin (83) react against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

And don’t misunderstand: Jefferson’s discussion about his need for patience was while reflecting on his injury turmoil. He didn’t redirect that frustration toward the team as a whole.

However, the sensationally-gifted receiver is sober-minded when it comes to where Minnesota finds itself. Toward the beginning of the press conference, Jefferson reflects on how it “has been a complicated year” given the injuries and the turnovers that were a chronic problem. He then says that “it’s been the most difficult [season] that I’ve experienced” (before hastening to add that the team has nevertheless remained unified).

A few minutes later, Jefferson discusses how the team has been out of sync at various points all season. “I feel like every year,” Jefferson notes, “it’s just we’re great at one thing and then not great at the other.” Shrinking things down to just the current Vikings involves seeing a team where there hasn’t been “one game that we had both sides of the ball just be on.”

He then describes where the Vikings should go: “We just need to separate ourselves. Try to really dig deep on what we really want, as an organization, as a team.”

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears
Oct 15, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores watches his team play against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

So, where should the Vikings begin? What should the Vikings really want (to borrow Jefferson’s words)?

Start with pushing Justin Jefferson to another statistical achievement. The shot at 2,000 yards is dead in the water; an injury took care of that possibility. What’s still possible, though, is 1,000 yards. He’s sitting on 882 yards, meaning he’ll need 118 more to get to the notable milestone. Feed him early and often in Week 18 so that he doesn’t end the year with a bad taste in his mouth.

After the season is done, make it the top priority to have him agree to a historic deal. Jefferson’s contract should smash the previous benchmarks for annual average and guaranteed money. So, look for a contract that surpasses $30 million annually and then clears $80 million in total guarantees.

Syndication: The Enquirer
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) catches a pass in the fourth quarter of a Week 15 NFL football game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Cincinnati Bengals, Saturday, Dec. 16, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Bengals won 27-24 in overtime.

Once the personal business is taken care of — Justin Jefferson hits a statistical high and then lands a humongous deal — the Vikings can shift toward fulfilling the competitive portion of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah’s competitive rebuild. Re-signing Danielle Hunter, nailing the draft picks, pulling off a major trade (or two), and any number of other personnel decisions are all ways of supporting Jefferson.

The receiver wants to win.

So far, he has demonstrated tremendous patience as Minnesota has stumbled through several average seasons. The organization, though, can’t take his patience for granted and nor can they squander the opportunity that’s in front of them. On a personal level, the receiver had to take a backseat due to injury, but the team can’t continue taking a backseat to other teams in the NFL.

Justin Jefferson is a Hall of Fame player who is committed to bringing a Lombardi to Minnesota. Do whatever is necessary to allow Jefferson to achieve his goals.

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

K. Joudry is the Senior Editor for Vikings Territory and PurplePTSD. He has been covering the Vikings full time since the summer of 2021. He can be found on Twitter and as a co-host for Notes from the North, a humble Vikings podcast.