Wednesday was a whirlwind for the NFL news cycle. The Kansas City Chiefs have offered to make Tyreek Hill the highest paid receiver in the league. Hill was not interested. Talks had stalled and he was on the trade market. The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets lined up their offers, and Hill was gone in the time it took Patrick Mahomes to pull off a game-winner.
The first reaction was shock. How could this have happened? How could Hill have wanted out? And how could the Chiefs just dump him for draft picks?
But nearly six hours north of Kansas City, Hill’s departure poses a problem. And for the Minnesota Vikings, it could come down to Justin Jefferson.
In the past two weeks, two franchise receivers have found new homes. When the Green Bay Packers offered Davante Adams a similar contract, he told them he wanted to play in Las Vegas. Two weeks later, Hill’s drama unfolded.
Hill was a vital part of an offense that had dominated the NFL. They went to back-to-back Super Bowls and were set to play another. He had the best quarterback in the league, but he still wanted out.
Adams was in the same place. The Packers are coming off back-to-back 13-win seasons and Aaron Rodgers is coming back. The team makes one last run at a Super Bowl. But Adams wanted to be a Las Vegas Raider.
The Chiefs and Packers made these decisions for two reasons. First, NFL players followed the NBA’s lead. If you don’t like a situation, force your way out. It is more important to have control of your career than to entrust it to someone else.
But there is also the financial aspect. In the case of Hill and Adams, both teams were trying to pay off their primary goal while also paying off a highly paid quarterback. With Mahomes ($35.7 million) and Rodgers ($28.5 million) possessing two of the league’s highest hits, it’s getting harder to keep a receiver/quarterback duo in place.
It’s important to remember that in Minnesota. Justin Jefferson dominated the NFL in his first two seasons. He is the face of the franchise. Griddy is played everywhere, from hockey games to weddings. He’s an absolute superstar. But that means nothing if the Vikings can’t manage the salary cap and keep it happy.
In the first two weeks of the offseason, the Vikings didn’t show much promise. The Kirk Cousins extension threw in $18.7 million in zero money for the 2024 ($12.5 million) and 2025 ($6.2 million) seasons. The front office is banking on the salary cap rising over the next two years, but that remains a concern due to the rising cost of wide receivers.
Jefferson must have smiled when Christian Kirk signed a 4-year, $72 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He probably started doing the Griddy in his living room when Adams signed a 5-year, $140 million extension with the Raiders. And Hill’s new 5-year, $120 million deal likely inspired a new dance we’ll see next season.
Each of these contracts has a ceiling of up to $30 million. In the case of Adams ($40.1 million) and Hill ($50.1 million), it’s impossible for teams to pair them with an expensive quarterback.
Jefferson due for an extension in May 2023 is a significant concern for the Vikings. Jefferson could ask for a contract of around $40 million per season. This contract could flirt with a cap of $60 million which could further complicate their ability to build a competitive roster.
So how do the Vikings avoid the same fate as the Chiefs and Packers? By drafting a rookie quarterback.
This year’s draft class is not considered elite. The Vikings probably don’t have the credentials to get Malik Willis. Kenny Pickett, Matt Corral and Desmond Ridder have their question marks, and drafting a Day 2 or Day 3 quarterback probably won’t produce a franchise starter.
Even in the strongest 2023 class, the Vikings are unlikely to stand a chance against Bryce Young or CJ Stroud. That leaves the Vikings hopeful that a Joe Burrow-type prospect will fall to their knees midway through the first round.
Therefore, Jefferson will have to experience growing pains or play with a late-30s Kirk Cousins on a massive cap shot. But this is where Jefferson can help.
When the Vikings had Randy Moss, it didn’t matter who threw the ball to him. Despite catches from Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn and Gus Frerotte, Moss continued to produce at a high level and Minnesota was able to build around him.
Jefferson is the same type of player. No matter who the Vikings decide to take in the next two drafts, telling them to throw Jefferson is a smart move. If Jefferson succeeds in Kevin O’Connell’s scheme, he will get enough ball to be happy. If it can raise a rookie quarterback, Minnesota can build its roster without tanking.
It’s a winning scenario that achieves Adofo-Mensah’s goal of “competitive reconstruction.”
In the next calendar year, the Vikings will write a massive check to Jefferson. But if they do it right, they could pull off a sticker shock and keep their best player happy.