Vikings star Justin Jefferson is ready to lead the franchise into the future

There was an overarching theme this week when star receiver Justin Jefferson talked about signing a four-year, $140 million extension with the Vikings. Though the historic deal is going to help him set up his family for generations to come, for which Jefferson couldn’t be more grateful, he kept referencing the responsibility that comes with this much money being attached to his name.

As much pride as he took in being voted as a team captain last season, for example, Jefferson isn’t hiding from the fact that he didn’t have to be as vocal in certain situations, with former franchise quarterback Kirk Cousins typically shouldering the load in that department.

That won’t be the case this season now that Jefferson suddenly finds himself as the biggest voice in the locker room.

“I’m going be on everybody,” he said. “I’m going to make sure that I’m the leader of this team.”

That is as authoritative as Jefferson has ever been when talking about his leadership. In that past, he has led mostly by example, letting his play on the field do the talking more often than not. He will have to push himself outside of his comfort zone moving forward as more and more of his teammates start to lean on him for guidance.

Not that it should be too difficult for Jefferson to make the adjustment. He already has been carrying himself as the face of the franchise. All he has to do now is simply establish himself as the voice of it, too.

“He naturally emanates through life with positivity and joy, and that does have an impact,” general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. “His focus on being more intentional about his leadership is a bonus.”

A perfect example of Jefferson finding his voice came a couple of months ago. Still locked in contract negotiations with the Vikings at the time, he went out of his way to reach out to rookie quarterback J.J. McCarthy shortly after the former Michigan star was drafted in the first round.

“I’m going be that main person in his ear trying to teach him and trying to prepare him for what he’s about to go through,” Jefferson said. “I told him that this league is tough. It’s not an easy job to come out here and perform as a rookie. I will be that main person that he can lean on.”

That interaction speaks volumes about the type of person Jefferson is.

“He means the world to that locker room,” head coach Kevin O’Connell said. “He’s a culture changer.”

That’s something new teammates already have noticed in their short time working with Jefferson at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. He’s always full of energy throughout practice, whether he’s making people laugh during stretches, or bringing a swagger to an individual drill.

“He brings the juice,” veteran running back Aaron Jones said. “He gets the guys going. If he sees somebody doesn’t have it, he’s picking him up. You see what kind of player he is.”

It also helps that Jefferson is awfully good at his position.

“Just throwing to that guy is fun,” said veteran quarterback Sam Darnold, who came to the Vikings this offseason and is still brand-new to the team. “He gets open more times than not.”

That innate ability to get open and catch the ball has helped Jefferson get to this point in his career. The next step for Jefferson is leaning into his leadership as he tries to take the Vikings somewhere they’ve never been.

“We all have to be on the same page,” he said. “It starts with me getting the guys ready.”

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