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'I’m the leader of this team.' Jefferson era with Vikings gets fresh start.

Justin Jefferson's parents, oldest brother and agent filed into the Vikings' media room, taking seats reserved for them by placards on the chairs along the side of the room. Jefferson held up the No. 18 jersey that by now has become a touchstone for Vikings fans, smiling as he stood on a platform between coach Kevin O'Connell, General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and co-owner Mark Wilf.

In many ways, the news conference Tuesday to discuss Jefferson's four-year, $140 million contract extension with the Vikings felt like the ones they hold each April to introduce their first-round pick. It was the kind of day that, in the spring of 2020, Jefferson couldn't have.

"Being a first-round pick in the tough circumstances that surrounded the difficult times of COVID we all went through, Justin never really got that day," O'Connell said. "He never really got the day with his family to be here and be recognized as he should have been in that moment. So today is also about that, making up for experiences lost. We look back on that, very, very fortunate that Justin became a Minnesota Viking."

Jefferson returned to the Vikings' Eagan headquarters for the first day of the team's mandatory minicamp on Tuesday, discussing the deal that made him the NFL's highest-paid non-quarterback before heading out to the practice field to work with quarterbacks Sam Darnold and J.J. McCarthy for the first time. If the day had a theme, it might have been patience: Jefferson needed it on his path from an undersized, lightly-recruited receiver to the 2022 NFL offensive player of the year, and both the Vikings and the receiver's agents had to exercise plenty of it in contract negotiations that stretched nearly a year.

In the end, Jefferson got a deal with $110 million in guaranteed money that will make him a free agent again before his 30th birthday. And the Vikings secured the services of the player they'd long ago determined they wouldn't do without.

"This day was going to come," Adofo-Mensah said. "There was never a second in my mind that we weren't going to be here. We obviously have to navigate challenges and things like that, but this was always our purpose. We're just really glad to be here to celebrate this occasion."

The Vikings began talks with Jefferson's agents on a new deal last offseason, and the fact the receiver remained two seasons away from free agency meant there was no need for either side to offer concessions in the name of expediency. Jefferson reported to training camp on time last year and was a full participant without a deal. Talks ended without a contract the day before the 2023 season opener; the receiver brushed aside contract concerns after the Vikings' loss to the Buccaneers the next day, saying his only focus was on winning.

"It's hard, because everybody looks at that as some failure," Adofo-Mensah said. "I don't. I look at it as a couple months' process that stopped, restarted and actually got done a lot quicker than most deals get done, when you think about it."

Jefferson, who turns 25 on June 16, called the deal "something I've been waiting [on] for a long, long time — not only just a money standpoint, but setting my family up for generations."

He viewed it as a mandate, too, referencing his status as the face of the team and adding, "I'm going to be on everyone hard.

"I'm going to make sure that I'm the leader of this team and we're working to where we want to go, which is a world championship. I'm excited for my family, excited for my friends, so excited for all the people that supported me, but we're definitely just getting started."

The contract is unlikely to be Jefferson's last, and Adofo-Mensah said Tuesday the Vikings had to pivot in negotiations when they realized they couldn't strike an agreement on a longer deal. A.J. Brown signed a three-year extension with the Eagles and Amon-Ra St. Brown got a four-year deal from the Lions in recent weeks; it seemed unlikely Jefferson's camp would forego another chance for him to reach free agency in his prime.

"Obviously, on their side of it, they always want deal to be shorter: as much money as possible and shorter, and ours, longer," Adofo-Mensah said. "That [wide receiver] position has gotten shorter in [contract] terms, which is a unique dynamic in the market."

The Vikings drafted Jefferson with the pick they got from the Bills in the Stefon Diggs trade in 2020, and the flood of receiver talent in recent drafts could have helped make an argument for trading Jefferson and acquiring a cheap replacement. Adofo-Mensah's resolve to pay Jefferson, though, rested on one of his core principles: paying your own star players is still a better investment than finding them elsewhere.

"Those are hard conversations," Adofo-Mensah said. "I've been in places where they have specific calculations for how much a player's worth. Those are tougher in football compared to baseball, because of the interactions between teammates and things like that. But I do know those numbers, obviously I have them in our calculations. Then, you can kind of look at the market. What does the market typically pay for, things like that? Value-wise, would I rather have a quarterback at this level or a receiver at this level or a rusher at this level?

"But at the end of the day, I think studying teams that have gotten to the [conference] championship, Super Bowl level, it requires a certain amount of talent. … Look, your drafts are always going to be your most efficient [way], but re-signing your own is typically the second-best, right? Because free agency, you have to pay a premium to the market, and then lastly, people have to trade. So in that kind of hierarchy, we look at these deals as pretty favorable to the team when you're extending your own, and that's where we're happy to be."

Jefferson, too, sounded happy his patience had been rewarded.

"We knew the deal was going to be done eventually," he said. "It was just a matter of when. Football is my main priority. Football is what got me here: just the love of the game, being able to feel like a kid waking up in the morning, excited for the games. But of course, the contract comes with the game, and I'm just excited to finally be done with it, try to move on and reach the goal we're all trying to reach."