Vikings get Jefferson back for minicamp as star WR takes contract talk in stride
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Justin Jefferson jogged onto the sun-soaked practice field, proceeding to jump in the air with a karate kick of his left leg as he approached his teammates.
Absent all spring on his own offseason training and business agenda, Jefferson’s salient presence was a natural highlight for the Minnesota Vikings as they convened for minicamp.
“You can just tell when he’s walking the halls in our building, just the energy and the juice that he brings,” coach Kevin O’Connell said Tuesday. “He was in great shape, moving around today like I expected him to be, mentally still really sharp.”
Jefferson, an unanimous All-Pro pick for 2022 who has two years remaining on his rookie contract, has entered the window for what will likely be an extraordinarily expensive extension with his 4,825 yards and 324 receptions that are the most in NFL history over a player’s first three seasons.
The Louisiana native has been working out in the Miami area during the voluntary portion of Minnesota’s offseason program, which had about 97% attendance on the roster. The two-day minicamp this week is mandatory, subjecting no-shows to fines.
“I had a lot of stuff going on. They didn’t really force me to come back too much, so it didn’t seem like I was missing too much, but they definitely wanted me back here,” Jefferson said.
He said he’s been busy with endorsement and marketing opportunities and casually dismissed a question from a reporter about whether his absence was related to the lack of a new contract. He also said he would return for training camp, regardless of the status of negotiations.
“I don’t really see it as a cloud hanging over my head. At the end of the day, I’m just going to be myself, still going to be playing the same way,” Jefferson said. “The contract comes with the game, but my agent handles that. I don’t.”
Davante Adams (Las Vegas), Tyreek Hill (Miami), A.J. Brown (Philadelphia), Amari Cooper (Cleveland) and Stefon Diggs (Buffalo) are the top five earners in the league in terms of maximum contract value for wide receivers. The $140 million the Raiders committed to Adams is the largest overall figure at that position, though about $72 million of that comes from non-guaranteed base salaries for 2025 and 2026. Hill’s annual average of $30 million on a four-year contract with the Dolphins is currently the highest.
“As long as I’m going to keep on performing at my best ability on the field, being the same person that I am on and off the field, I’ll be good,” Jefferson said.
O’Connell has maintained regular contact with Jefferson since last season ended, even asking him for input about certain formation or route suggestions in the endless strategy session that is the offseason for an NFL coach.
Clearly, O’Connell wanted Jefferson with the team the entire time, particularly considering the departure of Adam Thielen and the leadership void that created in the wide receiver group. The Vikings drafted Jordan Addison in the first round, but the USC product has been held out of the full-team practices open to reporters because of an unspecified injury.
But there’s no apparent tension here, either.
“We’re quite a few installs in on formations and certain plays, and he was able to jump right back in there and really try to absorb some of the new things we’re doing as well for his role, which is a pretty special one in our offense,” O’Connell said.
Still missing, however, was defensive end Danielle Hunter, who has been seeking a new deal.
Hunter has 71 sacks for the Vikings since he was drafted in the third round out of LSU in 2015, the sixth most in the league during that span despite missing the entire 2020 season (herniated neck disc) and more than half of 2021 (torn pectoral muscle) with injuries.
He has had the five-year, $72 million extension he signed in 2018 adjusted twice. He’s on the book for a $4.9 million base salary this year and a salary cap hit of more than $13 million on a deal that’s scheduled to expire after the season. According to data compiled by Over The Cap, Hunter ranks 15th among edge rushers in the NFL in annual average contract value.
Skipping the offseason program means Hunter has forfeited a $100,000 workout bonus. He’s also subject to a fine of almost $50,000 from the Vikings for missing the mandatory two-day minicamp, per collective bargaining agreement guidelines.
“I’ve got all the respect in the world for Danielle as a player, a leader, a person on our team,” O’Connell said. “We feel very strongly about being solution-oriented with everything that comes about, and this example, just like a lot of the other ones that have come up, we’ll do the same, and we hope to have continued dialogue and have a really positive outcome.”