Justin Jefferson’s Fate With Vikings Faces Franchise’s Toughest Question

Cousins, Jefferson, Vikings

Getty Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings reacts after scoring a touchdown with teammate Kirk Cousins in the first quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelersat U.S. Bank Stadium on December 09, 2021 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)

Money will be of little concern when Justin Jefferson enters contract talks with the Minnesota Vikings. He’s guaranteed to get paid.

The bigger question mark that could sway Jefferson’s decision is regarding who will be throwing him the ball once his potential extension kicks in, Purple Insider’s Matthew Coller asserted on a January 27 episode of the Purple Insider podcast.

“He’s going to ask, ‘Is it Kirk [Cousins] who is going to be here? … Is it going to be the quarterback who’s helped me get all these numbers? Are you taking a swing to win with somebody else on a rookie deal?’ That’s something he’s going to want to know,” Coller said.

Vikings Must Have an Answer at QB After Kirk Cousins by 2025

Let’s be clear, Jefferson has thrived in Minnesota with Cousins.

He’s emerged as the league’s No. 1 wide receiver and put forth one of the greatest single-season performances in league history this past season. He’s the first non-quarterback MVP finalist since Adrian Peterson over a decade ago.

However, in considering his future, Jefferson knows he’s going to get paid and he’s going to put up numbers wherever he may be.

His chief concern? Winning.

That’s been hard to come by for the Vikings, who have just one playoff win since their 2017 NFC Championship game run that prompted signing Cousins five years ago.

Jefferson is an ultra-competitor and can only stand so many seasons without making noise in the postseason. He watched A.J. Brown refuse an extension with the Tennessee Titans and force a trade to join the Philadelphia Eagles — a move that’s proven masterful by both Brown and the Eagles, who are one win away from hoisting their second Super Bowl in five years.

“I think he really wants to win — winning, going deep in the playoffs and getting a ring — I can guarantee you [Jefferson] is watching A.J. Brown with jealousy and thinking, ‘that should be me,’ ” Coller said.

The Vikings will either let Cousins play out his final year and draft a developmental quarterback in 2023 or extend him through the 2024 season. After that, Minnesota will have to move on from Cousins to afford to pay Jefferson approximately $30 million in the first official year of his contract. Having two players on contracts worth $30-plus million would crater the rest of the roster.

But if Minnesota does not present Jefferson with a convincing plan beyond Cousins, Coller believes Jefferson’s future with the Vikings could be in doubt as early as this summer.

“If he’s got something in mind of what he wants that isn’t here — maybe it’s the quarterback position, maybe it’s not —  it’s always possible [an extension] does not happen. If it doesn’t happen by the end of training camp, it’s red alert,” Coller said.

New Vikings Regime Has to Carve Their Own Legacy After Kirk Cousins

The Cousins question is even larger Jefferson.

The future of the franchise hinges on what the Vikings intend to do at the most important position in sports. Cousins is one of the highest-paid players in the league and his contract restricts what the Vikings can build around him.

The new regime of Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell doubled down on trying to make a run with Cousins and the same veteran core that has atrophied since the Vikings’ peak in the 2017 postseason.

That bet panned out with a fortunate 13-win season, however, the gap between Minnesota and NFC contenders like the Dallas Cowboys, San Francisco 49ers and Eagles is evident.

The Vikings have tried to reload their troubling defense with budget veteran signings the past two seasons and can only go the same route in 2023.

It doesn’t help Minnesota has had a horrific track record in the draft in the Cousins era. Of 56 draft picks since 2018, only four players have become high-impact contributors — all on offense (Brian O’Neill, Christian Darrisaw, K.J. Osborn and Jefferson). Seven players in that span are currently starters.

Minnesota will make due once again with Cousins’ money guaranteed on the cap sheet for next season. But if the Vikings are going to transform into a contender anytime soon, having their pick of the litter in free agency is a speedier solve.

That will only come once they get out from under Cousins’ existing contract and build their roster around a rookie deal.

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