Vikings Risk Alienating Star WR Jefferson With Contract Strategy

Justin Jefferson, Vikings

Getty Wide receiver Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings lay claim to the NFL’s best receiver in Justin Jefferson, and how they handle negotiations with him this offseason is of crucial importance.

Just three years into what projects to be an historic career, Jefferson is a three-time Pro Bowler and earned All-Pro honors for the first time last season when he threatened league records for catches and receiving yards in a season (he broke the Vikings franchise records in both of those categories in 2022).The wideout is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, though as a first-round pick Minnesota retains the right to exercise a fifth-year team option on Jefferson’s deal for the 2024 season.

In most cases of first-round picks who perform to, or above, the level of expectations that accompany their draft position, the franchise in question exercises that option and a long-term extension follows. Jefferson’s situation, however, is different. It’s different because he hasn’t just lived up to expectations, he has greatly exceeded them to the point that he is in line for the richest extension at the wide receiver position in NFL history.

Jefferson is undoubtedly hoping for, and probably expecting, that contract extension to come this offseason and begin in 2024. But the annual number is almost certainly going to come in above $30 million, which is the current record for a wideout’s per season salary held by Tyreek Hill of the Miami Dolphins. Minnesota is in a tough spot where the salary cap is concerned as general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah continues reconstructing the roster to make it younger, faster and perhaps most crucially, cheaper.

Jefferson’s fifth-year salary will slot in at $19.7 million for 2024 if Minnesota exercises its option, which would save the Vikings north of $10 million two seasons from now and would alleviate the headache of adding Jefferson’s massive extension number to the books immediately.

There is no question that exercising their team option is the smartest financial play the Vikings can make. However, the decision isn’t that simple, as making it will keep millions out of Jefferson’s hands and risk alienating the best wide receiver in the game during a time of apparent transition under center from Pro-Bowl starter Kirk Cousins to what will probably be a young quarterback selected in this year’s NFL Draft.

Vikings Predicted to Exercise Jefferson’s 5th-Year Option

Justin Jefferson, Vikings

GettyWide receiver Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings warms up before a game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report laid out the situation on Friday, April 14, before predicting that the Vikings will roll the dice by picking up Jefferson’s option and waiting until next offseason to offer him a multiyear extension.

The only real question here is whether the Vikings will exercise Jefferson’s $19.7 million option or extend him first. If Minnesota goes the extension route, there’s a very good chance that Jefferson surpasses Tyreek Hill as the league’s highest-paid receiver in terms of annual salary.

The problem is that Minnesota isn’t well positioned to give Jefferson up-front money on a new contract this offseason. Equipped with just $1.1 million in cap space, the Vikings could struggle to pay bonuses and guarantees, even with them being prorated over the length of the contract. Minnesota still needs to create cap space with which to sign its draft picks later this month.

The prediction here is that Minnesota exercises Jefferson’s option and works to extend him sometime between the draft and the start of the 2024 season.

Vikings Should do Everything Possible to Meet Jefferson’s Demands

Justin Jefferson, Vikings

GettyWide receiver Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings participates in pregame warmups before a contest against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium on December 24, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

Jefferson’s extension would still supersede the fifth-year option number of $19.7 million if agreed to next offseason, meaning his massive annual salary would begin in 2024 and the receiver wouldn’t lose out on the approximately $10 million extra that he could be due.

However, the move would inevitably keep Jefferson’s bank account lighter over the next year without the prorated bonus/guaranteed money. It would also allow for another full season of potential injuries to transpire, or other negative circumstances to arise, that could negatively impact the overall amount of Jefferson’s imminent contract extension.

Jefferson has produced 324 catches for 4,825 yards and 25 touchdowns over his first three seasons, per Pro Football Reference, and he turns just 24 years old in June. The Vikings probably won’t lose the wideout ahead of a max contract extension regardless of when it arrives or how the two sides get there. That said, upsetting Jefferson in any way is a risk Minnesota should avoid at all costs if possible.

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