Vikings Trade Pitch Swaps Justin Jefferson for NFL Leader in Yards Per Catch

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

Getty Justin Jefferson #18 of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings have denied reports they were interested in dealing Justin Jefferson during the NFL draft and replacing him with Malik Nabers, but if the team does decide to trade its star wide receiver rather than pay him more than any non-quarterback in league history, the market will be substantial.

Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report crafted a handful of proposals on Wednesday, May 29, exploring Jefferson’s trade market. Among the more interesting pitches involved the Pittsburgh Steelers and a package that included wideout George Pickens, a 2025 first-round pick and a third-rounder the following year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers took a unique approach at quarterback this offseason. They signed Russell Wilson for next to nothing because of his release from the Denver Broncos and traded for Justin Fields because the [Chicago] Bears happened to get the No. 1 pick to take Caleb Williams.

Both are potentially genius moves. If either quarterback ends up having success, they pulled off the rare feat of getting a bargain on a quarterback they didn’t draft. Bringing in a wide receiver like Justin Jefferson would only elevate their chances of that actually happening.

Pickens is a good receiver and the Vikings would do well to pair him with Jordan Addison if they trade Jefferson. But the 2022 Offensive Player of the Year is the kind of force multiplier the Steelers need to transform their offense.

George Pickens Isn’t Justin Jefferson, But Has WR1 Ceiling in NFL

George Pickens

GettyPittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens.

There is no question that the Vikings would be downgrading if they swapped Jefferson for Pickens, but value isn’t just about talent on the field. It’s also about what that talent costs, which is of paramount concern in a salary cap sport.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that earlier in May that he expects Jefferson to be the highest-paid non-QB in league history when it’s all said in done, adding that he expects the Vikings will be the team to pay him that money. Doing so would mean approximately $35 million annually, probably on a four- or five-year deal.

Meanwhile, Pickens is on his rookie contract for two more years at salary cap numbers of $1.85 million and $2.15 million, respectively. He has his deficiencies, but he also does some things incredibly well and has runway to improve at just 23 years of age.

“Pickens has promise as a No. 1 receiver, but he was 74th in true catch rate and 126th in win rate vs. man coverage, per Player Profiler,” Ballentine wrote. “Pickens is not a separator. He’s a contested-catch specialist who is at his best working vertical routes.”

Pickens made 63 receptions for 1,140 yards and 5 TDs last season, leading the league at 18.1 yards per catch. That production at his contract value plus two picks, including a first-round selection, could intrigue Minnesota if the franchise is hesitant to commit 14% of next year’s salary cap to one skill-position player in Jefferson.

Justin Jefferson Subject of Mixed Trade Rumors Over Past Week

Justin Jefferson, Minnesota Vikings

GettyWide receiver Justin Jefferson of the Minnesota Vikings.

Charley Walters of The Pioneer Press reported on May 26 that the Vikings considering trying to trade up to No. 5 in the draft with the Los Angeles Chargers to select Nabers, a product of LSU just as Jefferson was.

“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,” 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.”

Kevin Seifert of ESPN reported the opposite on May 28.

“This rumor has made the rounds, and it’s admittedly juicy, but the Vikings did not try last month to trade up and draft WR Malik Nabers,” Seifert posted to X. “Great player, but Vikings have a better one in Just Jefferson. Still working to extend Jefferson and no interest in trading him.”

Letting a player like Jefferson walk could be a career killer for the shot-callers in Minnesota. Thus, to do so would require a massive amount in trade, perhaps more than what Ballentine suggested.

That said, Jefferson and the Vikings have been negotiating on and off for two offseasons now, and at some point something has got to give.

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