Vikings Trade Pitch Swaps Justin Jefferson, 1st-Rounder for Chance at Elite QB

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings.

The NFL draft trade season has descended upon the league and the proposals are flying back and forth, including some that are hard to stomach — or even fathom — particularly for the Minnesota Vikings.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell authored such a pitch on Thursday, April 18. The Vikings have been the subject of hundreds, if not thousands, of trade columns over recent weeks suggesting all manner of deals to put them into the top five so they can draft a franchise quarterback. Most of those hypothetical agreements center around multiple first-round picks (two or three, typically), though occasionally the Vikings replace all (or most) of that capital with one star player — wide receiver Justin Jefferson.

Barnwell examined such a deal when proposing a trade that “might” make sense for Minnesota, in which the team flips Jefferson and the 23rd pick to the New England Patriots for the right to select a QB third overall.

I don’t think the Vikings want to trade Jefferson. … At the very least, until a Jefferson deal gets done, I’m keeping an open mind about the star wideout’s future.

The Vikings would notably be holding onto the No. 11 selection as part of this trade, which would allow them to get creative in replacing Jefferson. They could move forward with Jordan Addison and T.J. Hockenson as the bulk of their receiving corps, but would they want to draft Brian Thomas Jr. there? Would they try to move up to No. 8 to grab Rome Odunze?

It’s tough to look at any wide receiver and expect him to turn into Jefferson, but the Vikings could draft Drake Maye at No. 3 and then surround him with two first-round picks at wide receiver, Aaron Jones at running back and Hockenson at tight end.

Drake Maye Appears to Be Vikings QB of Choice in NFL Draft

Drake Maye, Denver Broncos

GettyQuarterback Drake Maye of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Minnesota would be surrendering arguably the best receiver in football on the cusp of his prime at just 24 years old, which reads like insanity both in a vacuum or under any hypothetical context one can think up. The case for it, however, rests with two facts.

The first is that the Vikings probably can’t put together a strong enough trade package to move up for Maye without doing something drastic. The two options are three first-round picks and then some (probably multiple Day-2 assets across multiple drafts, based on New England’s position), or a first-rounder in 2024 plus a bonafide superstar talent like Jefferson.

Receiver is an important position in the NFL, and doubly so for a team planning to start a rookie QB. But quarterback is more important, and Maye is Minnesota’s guy according to Adam Schefter of ESPN.

“I think Drake Maye is the leader in the clubhouse, but it all depends on the team,” Schefter said of the likely third pick in the draft during a SportsCenter Special edition on April 15. “If Minnesota were to find a way to go up to No. 3, my sense is Drake Maye is the preference.”

Trading Justin Jefferson Would Save Vikings Massive Amount of Money

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

GettyWide receiver Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings.

Beyond enabling the Vikings to draft a potentially elite franchise QB in Maye — who has a previous relationship with new Minnesota quarterbacks coach Josh McCown stretching back to high school — the second fact behind the team’s case for trading Jefferson is how much money it would save in the deal.

Jefferson is entering the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which the team exercised ahead of last season and which pays the wideout $19.7 million in 2024. As an annual average salary, that amount is minimal compared to what the Vikings are probably going to need to fork over to keep the wideout on the roster.

Most top NFL analysts project Jefferson will reset the market at the position, which means a contract north of $140 million total and $30 million annually, and probably north of those figures by considerable amounts.

Vikings Must Consider How to Spread Money Around Between Top Positions

Christian Darrisaw, Minnesota Vikings

GettyLeft tackle Christian Darrisaw of the Minnesota Vikings.

The receiver market has boomed in recent years, but traditional positions like quarterback, left tackle and edge rusher are still more important and worth stronger investments than wide receiver. Bringing in a starting quarterback on a rookie contract who can win, which Minnesota will aim to do regardless of whether that’s Maye or someone else, goes a long way to justifying paying a player like Jefferson the type of contract he’s going to get.

However, doing so ultimately hamstrings a franchise’s ability to pay top dollar to other crucial spots of need. Minnesota already let star pass rusher Danielle Hunter walk this offseason because of financial concerns, while left tackle Christian Darrisaw will be an unrestricted free agent in a couple years and is going to get paid.

None of this is to say that the Vikings aren’t going to end up paying Jefferson or, as Barnwell said, that they don’t want to. Jefferson has so much stardom and so much talent that even if moving on from him is the right move, Minnesota could still lose in the long run in terms of public perception if the team doesn’t win a Super Bowl in the first few seasons after his departure.

That said, if the Vikings are ever going to have an opportunity to avoid paying Jefferson such an astronomical amount, trading him for the QB of the future represents the best set of circumstances.

Then, of course, Maye — or whomever that franchise quarterback ultimately is — would have to prove out. And if he didn’t, Minnesota would face another set of problems altogether.

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