Vikings Tried Moving Up for WR in NFL Draft, Trading Justin Jefferson: Report

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings have yet to sign Justin Jefferson to a long-term contract that is likely to make the wide receiver the richest non-quarterback in NFL history.

In fact, that could well have been the primary motivation behind a plan to trade him during, or after, last month’s draft.

Charley Walters of The Pioneer Press reported on Sunday, May 26, that the “buzz” in late April was that the Vikings wanted to move up from No. 11 and into the top five not to select a franchise quarterback, like many thought, but to secure Jefferson’s replacement in the form of former LSU wideout Malik Nabers.

“There was buzz at draft time that the Vikings wanted to move from No. 11 to No. 5, not to pick a QB but to get LSU wide receiver Malik Nabers, who was picked No. 6 by the [New York] Giants,” Walters wrote, per The Purple Persuasion X account. “Had that trade occurred, Jefferson would have been traded and Nabers would have been the No. 1 receiver.”

Justin Jefferson’s Contract Could End Up Prohibitive to Vikings’ Success

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

GettyWide receiver Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings.

It is hard to imagine any team trying to move on from a three-time Pro Bowler, one-time All Pro and arguably the best receiver in the NFL at 24 years old and on the cusp of his prime. But if anything can motivate an organization into that line of thinking, it’s the kind of contract Jefferson is apparently trying to command.

Minnesota didn’t do itself any favors by waiting to extend Jefferson, as the league’s salary cap jumped $30 million from 2023 to 2024, which pushed the receiver’s value/negotiating leverage even higher.

“When this deal gets done, and I think it will eventually get done, it is expected to make Justin Jefferson the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history,” Adam Schefter said during a May 22 edition of “SportsCenter” on ESPN.

The San Francisco 49ers made edge rusher Nick Bosa the highest-paid non-quarterback in the sport when they signed him to a five-year contract worth $170 million total ($34 million annual average value). Based on Schefter’s reporting, that puts Jefferson’s asking price somewhere in the range of $35 million annually over at least five years.

As good as Jefferson has been, at some point any deal outpaces a player’s value in a salary cap sport that allows teams to spend only so much on the entire 53-man roster plus the practice squad. The league’s 2024 cap number is around $255 million per team, meaning if Minnesota gives Jefferson the deal Schefter says he wants, the receiver will assume nearly 14% of the franchise’s available contract funds.

Vikings May Not Have J.J. McCarthy Had They Traded Up for Malik Nabers, Dealt Justin Jefferson

J.J. McCarthy, Vikings

GettyQuarterback J.J. McCarthy of the Minnesota Vikings.

That kind of deal actually can work for Minnesota now, considering the cap sheet they’ve put together under center.

Sam Darnold is on a one-year deal worth $10 million, while rookie and No. 10 overall pick J.J. McCarthy just signed a four-year rookie contract for a little north of $5 million per season. Combined with the money the team has invested in Nick Mullens and Jaren Hall, the Vikings are currently on the hook for around $18 million in payments to their four quarterbacks in 2024.

Nine quarterbacks in the NFL currently earn at least $45 million annually, with five of those topping out at over $50 million per season, per Over The Cap. There is no way Minnesota could pay Jefferson what he wants and be competitive long-term if the team was also paying a signal-caller as expensive as Joe Burrow or Patrick Mahomes.

But because McCarthy and Hall are the only QBs on the books following the 2024 campaign and the Vikings have a reasonable shot of turning the former into a franchise quarterback, Minnesota should be able to avoid the backlash of trading one of the best players in the league in Jefferson.

Vikings Could Have Built Elite, Affordable WR Room Around Malik Nabers, Jordan Addison

Jordan Addison, Minnesota Vikings

GettyWide receiver Jordan Addison of the Minnesota Vikings.

Assuming Walters’ report is entirely accurate, an interesting thought experiment involves imagining how the Vikings would have pursued a solution under center had they dealt the No. 11 pick to the Los Angeles Chargers for No. 5, then selected Nabers.

A wideout duo of Nabers and Jordan Addison, with two-time Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson alongside them at tight end, would have made for a formidable pass-catching corps and an exceedingly affordable receiver room over the next three or four seasons. Of course, the team wouldn’t have had the ammo it needed to trade up from No. 11 to No. 10 and draft McCarthy.

Trading Jefferson probably would have brought the Vikings back at least two or three first-round picks. As such, doing so on draft night would have allowed the team the leverage to move back into a position for McCarthy, or perhaps Bo Nix out of Oregon who landed with the Denver Broncos at No. 12 overall.

On the other hand, Minnesota may have sat back and bet its season on Darnold, willing to tread water for a year until the 2025 draft or until the opportunity to trade for/sign a quarterback in free agency made itself available to them. The draft capital the team would have acquired for Jefferson would certainly have given the Vikings enough ammunition to compete for a top QB on the open market.

Vikings Likely to Pay Justin Jefferson Before Price Tag Rises Yet Again

Justin Jefferson, Vikings

GettyMinnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

But, as it stands now, Jefferson appears to have Minnesota where he wants it as the summer nears.

The wideout is entering the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which pays him $19.75 million in 2024. After that, he will hit free agency unless the Vikings utilize the franchise tag to keep him under contract through 2025 on a pricey one-year contract (worth the average value of the top-five deals at the position).

That is a viable path forward for the organization, but Jefferson is growing impatient with the team. Now that Minnesota has the money over the next few years to pay him, it makes the most sense to do so this summer before the price goes up again.

Read More