Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reported via Twitter that the Vikings picked up their option on the All-Pro pass-catcher’s rookie contract, locking him in through the 2024 campaign.
“The #Vikings have officially exercised the fifth-year option for star WR Justin Jefferson, source said,” Rapoport tweeted. “Perhaps the biggest no-brainer on earth (only slight hyperbole).”
Vikings Expected to Eventually Sign Justin Jefferson to Historic Extension
Minnesota selected Jefferson with the No. 22 overall pick in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. As with all first-round selections, the Vikings had the right to add a fifth year to Jefferson’s deal during the offseason period following his third professional campaign.
After leading the league in receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809) last season to go along with eight touchdowns, Jefferson is set to earn just $2.4 million in 2023, which would be the last year of his contract were he picked in the second round or later. The money faucet won’t start to flow unabated for the wideout until 2024, when the fifth-year option kicks in and pays him $19.7 million. And even that amount is well below Jefferson’s true market value in a salary cap sport.
Talks of an extension for Jefferson presumably began as soon as Minnesota’s brief playoff push ended in January, with perhaps every single NFL insider with access to a microphone predicting the richest wide receiver contract in league history for Jefferson whenever a long-term extension is actually signed. To be clear, that extension is still coming, though perhaps not until next offseason.
The Vikings’ new decision-making duo of general manager Kwesi-Adofo Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell find themselves in a difficult financial situation entering just the second year of their collective tenure with the franchise. Minnesota has made several tough decisions already, parting ways this offseason with fan favorites and organizational tentpoles like wide receiver Adam Thielen and linebacker Eric Kendricks in order to move the books from red to black.
Even with all the departures and pay cuts, more of which are presumably still to come, the Vikings remain 30th out of 32 teams in 2023 salary cap space with less than $1.2 million at their disposal as of Tuesday.
The financial realities the Vikings are facing as they attempt to rebuild a younger and sleeker roster both on the field and on the balance sheet would render an extension for Jefferson now more onerous than in the future. Exercising his fifth-year option affords the organization more time to get its affairs in order before signing Jefferson through the end of the decade.
Vikings Must Make Call on Who Will Be Justin Jefferson’s QB Long Term
With Jefferson’s extension now likely pushed off the books until next offseason, the organization can turn its attention to addressing the quarterback position.
The job is pretty well set with Kirk Cousins under center for his sixth season in Minnesota in 2023. However, his contract ends next spring and all signs point to the Vikings going in a different direction at that time. Cousins will turn 35 years old this year and while undeniably a quality starter, legitimate questions about whether the team can be Super Bowl contenders with him at the helm have come to dominate his career’s narrative.
The Vikings have a handful of options at their disposal after passing on the crop of free agent QBs who hit the market in March. They can attempt trades for either Lamar Jackson or Trey Lance, or they can draft a quarterback this weekend. If the Vikings decide to draft the future, they can either attempt to trade up in the first round or wait and see who falls into their laps with the No. 23 overall pick.
What Minnesota ultimately decides to do is still anyone’s guess. However, one thing is for certain — there will be a lot of interested parties tuning in closely to Round 1 of the draft on Thursday night, and Jefferson will not be least among them.