Zulgad’s four-and-out: Why Justin Jefferson won’t leave in free agency, a home-field disadvantage and other tidbits

There is a fear among some in the Minnesota Vikings’ fan base that wide receiver Justin Jefferson might decide to leave town as a free agent after the 2024 season, especially if he doesn’t approve of the decision the team makes on its starting quarterback.

While the Vikings’ choice at that position matters to Jefferson, there’s almost zero chance he walks in free agency.

Here’s why, along with some other tidbits on a team that has only two regular-season games remaining and is currently out of a playoff spot.

Why Justin Jefferson isn't going to leave in free agency

David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

No, it isn’t because Justin Jefferson loves Minnesota or the Vikings. It’s because there is no way he’s going to play in the final season of his rookie contract without a rich extension being done before he sets foot on the field for training camp.

Jefferson, who will make $19.7 million on his fifth-year option, became eligible for an extension last spring and was questioned by some for taking part in training camp drills without having a new agreement in place that included loads of guaranteed money.

It’s hard to believe he will do that again.

Jefferson could force his way out of Minnesota — there have been no indications he plans to do so — but he would do it this offseason and not after playing a season in which an injury could cost him the payday he deserves.

Jefferson, 24, missed seven games this season because of a hamstring injury. That was the first time in his four-year career he has been sidelined, so if he believed he was impervious to injury before that that’s no longer the case.

The Vikings are going to have a decision to make because there’s a good chance Jefferson will want to be the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL. That distinction currently belongs to San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa, whose average annual contract value is $34 million.

Will Jefferson want to surpass that and would the Vikings be OK with that type of deal? These are questions that need to be answered in the coming months. But Jefferson’s future in purple has a lot more to do with money than who plays quarterback.

If the sides can’t reach an agreement, the Vikings could explore trading Jefferson for a package that includes multiple first-round picks. Whatever happens, it’s going to be sooner rather than later.

Vikings' homefield hasn't been an advantage

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings long have felt the boisterous crowds at U.S. Bank Stadium have given them a home-field advantage.

But that hasn’t been the case this season.

If the Vikings don’t beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday in their regular-season home finale, they will finish with only two wins in eight home games. A year ago, the Vikings went 8-1 at home in Kevin O’Connell’s first season as coach and they have had only one losing season in the stadium since taking up residence in 2016.

That 3-5 record at home came in 2020 for a team that finished 7-9 under Mike Zimmer. Otherwise, the Vikings have gone 5-3 in 2016, 7-1 in 2017, 5-3 in 2018, 6-2 in 2019 and 5-3 in 2021.

The Vikings’ losses at home this season have come against Tampa Bay, the Chargers, Kansas City, Chicago and Detroit. The two wins were over San Francisco and New Orleans and came after an 0-3 start.

If Minnesota doesn’t beat Green Bay, it will join the 2011 team (1-7 at home, 3-13 overall) and the 1984 club (2-6 at home, 3-13 overall) as the only Vikings teams to finish with two or fewer wins at home since relocating to the Metrodome in 1982.

Because of how the 17-game schedule works, the Vikings will have an extra home game next season, so it will be even more important to make sure this is just a one-year blip.

Time to give Jaren Hall a look at quarterback

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Kevin O’Connell did not say Tuesday whether he will stick with Nick Mullens or switch to Jaren Hall for Sunday’s game against the Packers and the Vikings coach won’t talk to the media again until Thursday.

It’s possible O’Connell could make this a game-time decision but, since Kirk Cousins was injured in late October, O’Connell has announced who would be his starter in the middle of the week.

One would think that O’Connell will go with Hall, who got the start in Atlanta on Oct. 5 but suffered a concussion in the first quarter and was replaced by newly acquired Josh Dobbs. That started the carousel of quarterbacks we’ve seen for the Vikings, with Dobbs winning his first two games but then being benched in favor of Mullens during a 3-0 win in Las Vegas.

The only reason Mullens didn’t immediately replace Cousins was because he was on injured reserve with a back issue. Mullens’ two starts have been filled with errors, including six interceptions and an awful pass to an open Justin Jefferson late in Sunday’s game that was picked off.

Turnovers have been an issue for the Vikings all season, including miscues by Dobbs and Mullens, and one would think O’Connell has seen enough. Hall, a fifth-round pick of the Vikings last April, will have his own struggles but it’s hard to believe he would be more careless with the ball than Mullens.

There was a time when I felt Mullens was the best choice, given his previous NFL experience, but given his delayed decision-making, his lack of arm strength and issues with protecting the football, that opinion was misguided.

O’Connell and the Vikings would be better off getting a long look at Hall than they would continue to watch Mullens make mistakes.

When will T.J. Hockenson return in 2024?

Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings’ loss to the Lions not only proved to be a serious blow to their playoff hopes, but it also cost them a key part of their passing game.

Tight end T.J. Hockenson suffered torn ligaments to the ACL and MCL in his right knee, when Lions safety Kerby Joseph hit him low on a 24-yard reception in the third quarter.

Hockenson, who was acquired in a trade deadline deal in 2022, leads all NFL tight ends with 155 receptions since that move, according to ESPN. He ranks second in the NFL in tight end receptions this season with 95 and is third in receiving yards with 960.

Hockenson didn’t take part in team drills through much of training camp, and although the team said he was dealing with two issues during that time, it was believed he was staging a “hold in” to get a new contract. That came in August, when he signed a four-year, $66 million deal. The average annual value of $16.5 million makes Hockenson the second-highest-paid tight end in the league behind the Giants’ Darren Waller ($17 million per year).

Hockenson will undergo surgery in the coming weeks and will spend the offseason rehabbing. Doctors will have a better idea of Hockenson’s timetable for recovery after doing the surgery, but ACL reconstructions often require nine months for recovery.

That would put him back on the field for the second month of the 2024 season. Far from ideal, considering Hockenson’s importance to the Vikings’ passing game.

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

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Story originally appeared on Vikings Wire