With T.J. Hockenson’s deal done, is Justin Jefferson next for Vikings?


EAGAN, Minn. — Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was basking in relief after a massive contract agreement with tight end T.J. Hockenson was announced Thursday. The glow lasted all of four minutes before the obvious follow-up question arrived from a local reporter.

“Is Justin Jefferson next?”

Yes, the Minnesota Vikings general manager had a full plate this week. Along with the usual maneuvering to establish a 53-man roster, Adofo-Mensah was negotiating not only with Hockenson’s agent but also with Jefferson’s representatives. The All-Pro receiver became eligible for a contract extension of his own after last season, and while neither Jefferson nor the Vikings have said it explicitly, it’s quite possible the ensuing talks are down to their final 10 days.

During that span, the sides could agree on what might be the largest contract for a non-quarterback in NFL history. It’s also possible, Adofo-Mensah acknowledged for the first time Thursday, that talks would be cut off prior to the Vikings’ Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

“I think there are times with players,” Adofo-Mensah said, “[where] they kind of just want to focus on the season when it happens. So those are joint conversations we’ll have with his representatives whenever that time comes.”

Jefferson has not expressed displeasure with his contract situation. He skipped the voluntary portion of the Vikings’ offseason program but reported for mandatory minicamp in June, attributing his absence to a slew of marketing and endorsement opportunities, combined with minimal pressure from the Vikings’ organization. But he has participated fully in every training camp practice, including two apiece with the Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals, and did not employ any of the more aggressive tactics used by some of his teammates and other players around the NFL.

Linebacker Danielle Hunter, for one, sat out the first four days of camp entirely before the Vikings adjusted his contract to give him a raise of more than $10 million for 2023. Hockenson took part only in early stretching and individual drills for most of camp, saying first he had an ear infection and later back stiffness, but he resumed full practice participation this week as he closed in on his new deal.

Jefferson has been nonchalant about both the pace and timing of talks. In fact, he has brushed off questions about his contract for more than a year. During training camp in 2022, he said he was “not really too fond of money,” and he has since taken a fatalistic approach to negotiations.

“That’s not the worries that I have right now,” Jefferson said at the start of this summer’s camp. “It’s really only about winning a Super Bowl, just getting the wins, and being with my team. The contract is going to play itself [out], and I’m just out here to play football.”

Jefferson has developed a strong relationship with Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, and it’s fair to wonder whether the uncertainty surrounding Cousins’ future is impacting Jefferson’s decision-making. Cousins and the Vikings agreed in March to table negotiations for a contract extension, meaning Cousins will enter this season in the final year of his deal.

Cousins said in June that he didn’t expect discussions to pick up until March. So it remains to be seen whether Jefferson will commit to Minnesota long term without knowing for sure who will be throwing him the ball.

When considering that quandary, it’s hard to avoid thinking about the circumstances that brought Jefferson to the Vikings in the first place. They drafted him in 2020 after trading away star receiver Stefon Diggs, who had signed a contract extension in 2018 when the Vikings used a pass-first scheme under offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. But the Vikings fired DeFilippo before the end of the season and transitioned to a run-first approach. After seeing a 38% drop in targets in 2019, Diggs pushed for a fresh start.

There are no indications that the Vikings plan to move away from the scheme that helped Jefferson lead the NFL in receptions (128) and receiving yardage (1,809) last season en route to winning the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award. But Jefferson is also in position to ensure that everything is to his liking before signing a deal, knowing his price tag will only go up over time.

In turn, the Vikings wouldn’t face an immediate crisis if they can’t reach a deal before the season starts. They have Jefferson under contract for $2.4 million this season and $19.7 million for 2024 under his fifth-year option. They could use the franchise tag in 2025 if they choose.

Such a hardline approach does not seem preferable to Adofo-Mensah, who for months has been telling anyone who would listen that he wants to build the team around Jefferson’s talents.

“I try not to get into private conversations with people,” he said Thursday, “but we’ve said it and will continue to say it. Justin is somebody we want around here for a really long time. We’re going to do everything we can to do that. Whenever that happens, it will be a great day for the Vikings and a great day for Justin.”

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