Advertisement

Zulgad: Examining how much the Vikings’ decision on Kirk Cousins will impact Justin Jefferson’s future in purple

The Minnesota Vikings’ failure to reach a contract agreement with Justin Jefferson last summer has left many fans concerned about whether the star wide receiver will sign in the coming months, or elect to explore free agency next offseason after playing on his fifth-year option in 2024.

Part of that concern is based on reports that Jefferson wants to know whether Kirk Cousins will continue as his quarterback, or what direction the Vikings will go in at the position, if Cousins leaves in free agency.

So, could Jefferson really make a decision based solely on whether Cousins returns?

Let’s exam Jefferson’s likely priorities as he pursues a contract that could make him the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL.

No. 1: Breaking the bank is the most important thing

David Berding/Getty Images
David Berding/Getty Images

Jefferson did numerous interviews on radio row last week at the Super Bowl in Las Vegas and was blunt about his desire to get a substantial payday this offseason.

“I want to break the bank and I want to be a part of an organization that wants me and to really give me what I deserve,” Jefferson told Adam Schein of Mad Dog Radio. “I feel like eventually the Vikings will do what they need to do to have me in the building, but I don’t really know at this very moment. Only time will tell.

“I feel like I have the right people in my circle to negotiate and do what’s right. I feel like this whole process of how we handled things and how we went accordingly with the season and the contract stuff, I feel like we did a great job with it.”

It’s clear that Jefferson’s primary concern is getting as much as he can. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. Jefferson will turn 25 on June 16 and has established himself as one of the NFL’s best wide receivers in his first four years. The second contract is where many stars “break the bank” and Jefferson will do exactly that.

Jefferson’s camp and the Vikings had extensive talks leading up to Week 1 of the 2023 season and it was believed that an agreement was close at one point. But the deal never got done and Jefferson finished the season with 68 catches for 1,074 yards and five touchdowns, despite missing seven games because of a hamstring injury.

Jefferson has 392 receptions for 5,899 yards and 30 touchdowns in 60 regular-season games in his career and was a Pro Bowl pick in each of his first three seasons.

What type of contract will Jefferson get?

The top 15 paid players in the NFL are quarterbacks. San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa is the highest-paid non-quarterback with an average per year salary of $34 million. Miami’s Tyreek Hill is the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL with an average per year salary of $30 million.

Jefferson is going to get more than Hill and, perhaps, more than Bosa.

No. 2: Taking care of himself, means making the right business decision

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jefferson skipped the Vikings’ voluntary OTA practices last spring, but did take part in the mandatory minicamp. Jefferson said his absence was due to his busy offseason schedule and not a result of stalled contract negotiations.

It seems unlikely that Jefferson will take part in any of the Vikings’ camps, voluntary or not, until he signs a new contract. His contract will jump to $19.7 million in 2024 as the fifth-year option kicks in, but that’s a small figure compared to what Jefferson should have coming to him after the season.

Jefferson did not skip time in training camp last summer, or conduct a hold-in, surprising some who thought he might wait until his contract was done. One would think Jefferson’s representatives will determine that it’s far too great of risk to take part in activities without assurance of earnings beyond 2024.

Jefferson’s seven-game absence because of the hamstring injury he suffered last October against Kansas City at U.S. Bank Stadium served as a reminder of the perils that come with playing football. If Jefferson suffered a serious injury next season, he runs the risk of never maximizing his value.

No one doubts that Jefferson loves football, but he is a smart guy and he’s going to make a smart business decision for himself and his future.

No. 3: Now we can talk about who will be throwing him the ball

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

NFL Network’s trio of insiders — Ian Rapoport, Tom Pelissero and Mike Garafolo — recently reported that Jefferson might be waiting to sign his extension until the Vikings figure out who will be their quarterback next season.

Jefferson has made it clear he likes Cousins and talked about this situation on more than one occasion during interviews during Super Bowl week. It makes sense Jefferson would want to have an idea of what the Vikings will be doing at QB, but it’s a reach to think that if Cousins isn’t in purple that Jefferson will refuse to sign.

The NFL has entered it’s silly season where reports and rumors become difficult to differentiate and where speculation is taken as gospel. (Personally, I love this time of year.)

ESPN’s Dan Graziano reported Saturday that, “Minnesota knows it eventually has to address the QB position long term, and the notion of bringing in (Jayden) Daniels to pair with their star LSU alum wideout Justin Jefferson has appeal to some in the organization.”

Graziano also said New England might be willing to trade the No. 3 pick in the draft and that it’s worth keeping an eye on the Vikings or Falcons as teams that could look to make trades with the Patriots.

You think Jefferson is going to balk at playing with Daniels? The only way that’s going to happen is if the Vikings don’t give Jefferson the contract he wants.

Jefferson might be less than thrilled at the prospect of playing with veteran backup Sam Darnold, whose name has surfaced as a potential bridge option for the Vikings, if Cousins does leave. But, again, if Jefferson does “break the bank,” we’re guessing he will go along with the short-term plan.

This is less about Cousins, who still could return to the Vikings, and more about the franchise knowing where it’s headed.

No. 4: What's the plan for the future?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings have made one playoff appearance in Jefferson’s four seasons and that ended with a disappointing loss last season to the New York Giants in the Wild Card round. So Jefferson, undoubtedly, will have some questions for general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O’Connell about where things are headed.

This likely will go beyond the quarterback situation.

Jefferson was elected one of the Vikings’ captains for the first time in 2023 and is a leader in the locker room. Jefferson also is going to be aware that when his new contract begins in 2025 — assuming it gets done — it will eat a good portion of the salary cap and that means the best chance of building a winning roster will be with a quarterback on a rookie-scale contract.

The Vikings have many areas that need addressing — defensive tackle, an edge rusher and cornerback, to name three on defense — and the team’s overall depth is lacking.

Jefferson can’t win games by himself and it will be hard for the Vikings to add the necessary pieces if Cousins is making a top-level quarterback salary in 2025, Jefferson is the highest paid non-quarterback in the league and left tackle Christian Darrisaw is rewarded for being one of the best at his position.

If Jefferson decides the Vikings aren’t headed in the right direction, or the Vikings decide they don’t have the appetite to pay Jefferson what he wants, odds are good he will be moved this offseason.

Again, it makes no sense for him to play with the Vikings in 2024 until he has signed an extension. As for Cousins, it’s difficult to believe he will accept a team-friendly, one-year contract for 2024, thus, delaying a decision on the quarterback position for a year, or allowing a first-round pick to develop behind him. This would be a financial win for Jefferson and the Vikings but not for Cousins.

This isn’t to say that if Cousins leaves, and the Vikings have no real plan at quarterback, that Jefferson will be happy. But whether Jefferson stays or goes, will be determined by how much the Vikings are willing to pay.

Judd Zulgad is co-host of the Purple Daily Podcast and Mackey & Judd podcast at www.skornorth.com.

The Real Forno Show

[lawrence-related id=90656,90633,90642,90618,90575,90615,90549,90604,90592,90534]

Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire