MINNEAPOLIS — Entering his third year with the Vikings, Justin Jefferson is yet to hold the team’s single-season receiving yard record. He lost 16 yards when the team took a knee in their last game against the Bears.
He’s not yet considered the league’s best receiver in most circles (sometimes by his own admission), and he’ll earn $1.8 million this season, playing on a rookie contract that puts him 61st. league rank at that position.
Jefferson, just 41 days shy of his 23rd birthday, spoke about it all before the first practice of Vikings training camp on Wednesday with composure, as if he was in no rush for any of that to change. Maybe it’s because he knows that if he keeps doing what he’s been doing, everything will change soon enough.
“I’m here to do whatever I have to do,” he said. “No matter what numbers I end up with, those are the numbers I end up with. It’s mostly about having a winning season, getting into the playoffs and getting to the main goal that we’re trying to achieve. all to achieve.”
The two-time Pro Bowler, who caught 196 passes in his first two seasons on a heavy offense that targeted him 292 times, could be on the verge of even bigger things in 2022 in Kevin’s offense O’Connell. The former Rams coordinator oversaw an offense that helped Cooper Kupp post a league-record 1,947 yards in the NFL’s first 17-game regular season, before the Rams won Super Bowl LVI in their stage.
That Jefferson can emulate Kupp’s production on the Vikings’ offense is no secret to the Vikings, their coaches and defensive coordinators who have spent their summers studying how to stop Jefferson this fall.
But the receiver spoke on Wednesday about his growing connection to quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose locker is next to Jefferson’s. He reiterated his enthusiasm for O’Connell’s offense and the work the new coach has done to build player relationships this offseason.
All of this could be a springboard for Jefferson, who will soon become a candidate for a contract extension at a time when NFL receivers are being paid richer than ever.
This offseason, Kupp, Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill, AJ Brown and Stefon Diggs have signed new deals worth at least $24 million a year. Jefferson, who will be eligible for a new contract after this season, will not turn 25 until June 2024. He has posted more receiving yards in his first two years than any other player in NFL history; he could be even more prolific in his third season as the primary target of O’Connell’s offense.
A new contract for Jefferson could top the $30 million average Hill has earned from the Dolphins this offseason. For his part, Jefferson continued to insist on Tuesday that he wasn’t worried about the prospect of a big payday.
“I will focus on the contract after the season,” he said. “The main thing is to achieve that goal, but I don’t like the money too much. I’m really trying to achieve that goal of being the best receiver.”
You’ll forgive Vikings executive vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski if he doesn’t reproject the team’s salary cap and project a surplus based on Jefferson’s modesty. Assuming the receiver continues to produce, the big payday is coming.
For now, however, he can rest easy knowing that greater individual rewards are on the way. After a pair of lost nine seasons with the Vikings — which followed a three-year career at LSU where he won a national championship and was only part of seven losses — the thing Jefferson says he can’t supporter is more losing.
“Just coming from a winning team and having a losing record was definitely tough for me,” he said. “But I’m ready to turn things around. We’re all ready to turn things around, to get back to that old Vikings team that they were, getting to the playoffs and competing for that primary goal that we’re trying to achieve. “
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