Vikings Coach Could Leave Justin Jefferson Behind Amid Contract Talks

Keenan McCardell

Getty The Vikings are considering life after Adam Thielen and were urged to sign DJ Chark as a replacement.

The only position coach to survive last year’s regime change in the Minnesota Vikings organization could be on the move after Justin Jefferson advocated for him to stay a year ago.

NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported on January 18 that the New England Patriots have requested to interview Vikings wide receivers coach Keenan McCardell for their offensive coordinator position under Bill Belichick.

McCardell arrived in the 2021 offseason and developed a tremendous level of respect in the building for his development of Jefferson and the rest of the wide receivers room. The Vikings firing of Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman last January sparked an exodus of the previous coaching staff.

Appearing on the Unrestricted with Ben Leber podcast last January, Adam Thielen went to bat for McCardell, saying if the Vikings want to re-sign Jefferson, they should keep McCardell.

“I mentioned that to the owners: ‘Hey, if you want Justin to be your franchise guy, then you better keep that guy (McCardell) around because the relationship they have is so strong,” Thielen said. “He coaches (Jefferson) hard but shows him a ton of love. (Jefferson) takes that coaching so well and really has elevated his game.”

McCardell was the only position coach who kept his job.

Responding to a post about Thielen’s comment, Jefferson gave his public vote of confidence in McCardell, writing “Factssss must stay!”

Under McCardell’s tutelage, Jefferson led the league in receiving yards and catches this season.

Keenan McCardell Could Have Some Sway in Vikings-Justin Jefferson Contract Talks

Keenan McCardell

Courtesy of VikingsVikings coach Keenan McCardell (left) was retained during the regime change after Justin Jefferson gave input on his position coach.

McCardell’s stature in the Vikings organization could be a potential talking point in Jefferson’s contract negotiations this offseason. Minnesota is expected to bend seamlessly in making Jefferson the highest-paid receiver in NFL history — and keeping McCardell could be a negotiating chip at the table.

Patriots fans, responding to an ESPN report that Jefferson’s camp has not begun negotiations, have already begun wringing their hands at the unlikely possibility of poaching McCardell and Jefferson from Minnesota.

In all likelihood, Jefferson’s not going to turn down a lucrative contract with the Vikings even if McCardell leaves. However, his position coach’s presence should be a priority for Minnesota and could potentially make room for a more open negotiation.

However, the opportunity to become an offensive coordinator could be too good for McCardell to give up. Vikings offensive coordinator Wes Phillips has garnered some interest elsewhere, including the coordinator job for the Los Angeles Chargers, but turned down the interview request.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported that Phillips is content staying in Minnesota, which removes the possibility that McCardell could take his role next season.

Keenan McCardell Has Elevated the Vikings WR Room

A former NFL wide receiver, McCardell played 17 years in the league and ranks 25th all-time with 883 receptions.

He won a Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and has channeled his playing career into a coaching style that has elevated the Minnesota wide receivers room in less than a calendar year.

Before McCardell, the Vikings had been void of a true third wide receiver. That changed this in 2021.

K.J. Osborn, a 2020 fifth-round pick, didn’t play a single offensive snap his rookie year but springboarded to an impressive sophomore season, catching 50 passes for 655 yards and seven touchdowns, including an overtime game-winner against the Carolina Panthers. Osborn took another step forward this season, while 2022 sixth-round pick Jalen Nailor appears to be on his way to a contributing role.

Thielen credited McCardell for instilling a workmanlike mentality in the receivers — treating every rep like a game situation.

“I’ve never seen people practice the way that guys did this year, as far as the receivers group. Coach McCardell —just his mindset, he played 17 years in the NFL — there’s a reason why he did that and had success for so long,” Thielen said. “That was pretty cool to see guys approach practice — having fun — competing. That’s leadership when you can get guys to treat practice like a game.”

Stefon Diggs is one of the first players to tout McCardell’s teaching, saying he was one of the best coaches he’s ever had while at Maryland.

“Coach McCardell was the best coach I’ve ever had, because he taught me how to play receiver. He taught me the smallest details on running routes. He taught me suddenness, he taught me breaks. He didn’t teach me how to catch; he said, ‘We’re going to work on getting you open and creating separation,’ because everybody wants separation. I don’t care you are, I don’t care what quarterback you are, I don’t care what level you’re at, everybody wants to see separation,” Diggs said in a 2018 interview with the Star Tribune. “He taught me how to get open, essentially, and that’s why I hold him to such a high standard. He saw me as a raw talent: I can run, I’ve got good speed, I’m quick, but let’s tailor that into something that will take you farther.”

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