Free AgencyOpinion

Making Sense of the Vikings’ Pursuit of Alshon Jeffery

Can the unexpected disappoint? It’s a question I asked myself this afternoon as I watched tweet after tweet declare Alshon Jeffery a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Not more than an hour earlier, I’d heard—in real-time, with my own ears—Ian Rapoport interrupt a live NFL Network broadcast to break some unforeseen news: the Minnesota Vikings were “all in” on acquiring the free agent receiver from rival Chicago.

Mind you, I’m pretty even-keel,but Rapoport’s mention of “Minnesota” and “Jeffery” in the same breath nearly elicited a coffee-spitting reaction. I’d seen the receiver torch the Vikings as a member of the Bears, but not once did I imagine he’d potentially end up in purple and gold.

And not only were the Vikings pursuing Jeffery; general manager Rick Spielman was making a “strong push” to snag the star receiver away from the Bears, the Eagles, and the Colts.

Unfortunately for Spielman, those last-minute efforts left the Vikings empty-handed. Despite offering Jeffery a multi-year deal with “more security,” the newly-minted Eagle opted for a one-year, $14 million deal from Philadelphia.

Sitting at home, watching the news unfold across Tweetbot’s scrolling columns, I wasn’t sure what to make of the situation. The Vikings had just selected Laquon Treadwell in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, were expected to retain Adam Thielen with a second-round tender, and still see Stefon Diggs as a building block at wide receiver — why throw the bank at an expensive free agent like Jeffery?

I believe the answer starts with Treadwell. The underwhelming rookie finished 2016 with just one reception, though that 15-yard catch is old news by now. More often than not, he ended up on the Sunday sideline as a healthy scratch or victim to the injury bug. And when he did get the chance to play, Treadwell’s weaknesses—the ones I overlooked before the draft—stunted any of his progression and growth.

Maybe Rick Spielman and the Vikings are fighting a bout of buyer’s remorse with Treadwell. Maybe Treadwell was never the team’s first option; reports from Draft night indicate Will Fuller was the favorite among the coaching staff. Maybe Treadwell was the only realistic option for a franchise in need of help—on the field and in the public eye—at the receiver position.

Next up is the potential loss of other pass catchers from the 2016 roster. Both Charles Johnson and Cordarrelle Patterson became unrestricted free agents this afternoon, opening the possibility they’ll explore the open market. Of the two, Patterson will garner more immediate interest and may appeal to a team looking for more explosion from its skill players.

Declining to tender Johnson signals Minnesota’s intentions of letting the Norv Turner holdout wade into free agency. It also leaves the Vikings thin at the position, where Thielen, Diggs, and Jarius Wright truly are the only players with any extended experience. Cutting Wright would cost the Vikings $1.68 million in dead cap space; a small price to pay to offload Wright’s puzzling four-year, $14.8 million extension from 2014.

Given what we know, Spielman had plenty of motivation to pursue Jeffery: a seeming lack of confidence in Treadwell, a need for more talent at the position, a critical strike against an NFC North rival. So, why then, would Jeffery pass on Minnesota’s superior deal for a “tryout” contract in Philadelphia?

Immediately, a couple issues pop up. Jeffery wouldn’t necessarily be “the guy” in Minnesota like Thielen or Diggs, but in Philadelphia, he’d likely garner the most touches and targets of the corps. Jeffery’s also made lofty Super Bowl predictions in the past and could see the Eagles as a more legitimate contender than the Vikings in 2017.

And at $14 million, Jeffery’s contract with the Eagles could be worth more annually than Minnesota’s long-term offer. He’ll have a chance to shine next season, build his on-field resume after a down 2016, and entertain even richer figures when the salary cap increases—and he’s a free agent—in 2018.

Only Spielman and Jeffery know the specifics, but there’s plenty to unpack from one of Thursday’s more surprising stories. The Star Tribune’s Matt Vensel confirmed Minnesota’s pursuit of the coveted free agent later the day, further raising eyebrows and sparking questions of the Vikings’ motivations.

Will the Vikings save cap space and make an even bigger run next offseason? Was Rick Spielman bluffing to drive up Treadwell’s trade value?

.Back to my original question, though: can the unexpected disappoint? Fans suspected the Vikings would pursue a free agent receiver, but few, if any would’ve named Jeffery as the specific target.

At only 27 years old, with 13 100-yard games and a Pro Bowl selection to his name, Jeffery is the ultimate “missed connection.” Even with Treadwell waiting in the wings and the Thielen-Diggs combo creating meaninful production, the thought of Jeffery in Minnesota surely sparked butterflies in fans’ stomachs.

So yes, the unexpected can disappoint. If anything, it’s only created more questions, and that in it of itself is a disappointing.

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Austin Belisle

Austin Belisle is the West Coast's biggest Vikings fan, a football diehard cheering on the purple and yellow from sunny California. After graduating from San Jose State University in 2014, he began working full-time in corporate marketing and blogging on various sports websites. Austin's passion for the Vikings led him to Vikings Territory, where he hopes to share his lifelong enthusiasm for the team with readers on a daily basis. You can follow him on Twitter @austincbelisle

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3 years ago

My analysis here is that the Vikings liked Jeffrey for his size and ability to high point the ball. If so, the guy to pursue is Terell Pryor. A better athlete coming off a 1,000 yard season and as a former QB just beginning to reach his potential. Check out his film…he is a special talent. Perhaps a character risk. Go get him, Rick.

Dan T.
Dan T.
Reply to  Karl
3 years ago

Regarding the character risk, there was an interview with Boone last August in which he stated he wasn’t a big fan of Pryor when they played for a year together at OSU. Granted that was a long time ago and the entitled attitude Boone saw probably isn’t present anymore after Pryor had to work his way back up as a WR in the NFL. Still, strong comments from one of the more vocal guys on the team.

Dan T.
Dan T.
3 years ago

On the surface I understand the move because when healthy and motivated he’s a bonafide #1 receiver in this league and I’m of the opinion we have 2 guys in Thielen and Diggs that are high end #2’s and a big question mark with Treadwell. That said, I actually would have been more disappointed if they had signed him and tied up a bunch of money on a player who hasn’t been very available the last couple years. If he can stay on the field he’ll put up big #’s this year in Philly, but that’s what guys on one year contracts tend to do (this is specifically why I never believed they would cut Floyd). I don’t believe he’ll stay healthy any more than I believe Kalil or Okung will. If they are going to make a surprise splash I would prefer they go to the other side of the ball and try to get Dontari Poe to really make the middle of the defense a strength. Having a three man rotation of Joseph, Poe, and Floyd for 2017 would ensure the defense stays strong this year, and would allow them to let Floyd walk after the season without scrambling to find a replacement next off-season (like they are currently doing for the offensive line). Poe could play either the nose or 3-tech with his athleticism.

3 years ago

I don’t think the pursuit of Jeffery means anything other than we need a number 1 receiver. Diggs is a 2, Thielen a 3 and Treadwell was a rookie….and the Vikings have shown to have no problem showing patience with their rookies. This just means that Treadwell has to put his big boy pants on next year. He is going to get all those CP84 snaps.

Reply to  greb256
3 years ago

Thielen was better than Diggs last year. To say he is a 3 is just ignorant. Diggs is more shifty, but yards and TDs are what matter. Thielen knows as well as anyone how to get openand release from defenders.

3 years ago

I would have preferred Brandon Marshall in any case, but yeah, Jeffery is a legit #1 where Diggs and Thielen are more likely to top out as #2’s. Regarding Pryor, Brian Hartline has also roasted him, for what it’s worth.

Reply to  cka2nd
3 years ago

How’s it going cka? Not necessarily playing devil’s advocate, but I think that Diggs and Adam are being underestimated. It is very strange that I was thinking “I would love to see them sign Alshon”.. but thought no way considering a certain 2016 1st round pick that I hated at the time, and am bummed out that I was not proven wrong. Now we find that they did pursue him. A shame. He with Diggs and Adam would have been a formidable trio. Say what you will about rookie WR’s, maybe he was injured (maybe not so much), and that Zim eases WR’s into the foray.. But I am thinking that it is already time to cut bait with Tread. I am laughing at those that are trying to urge patience by drawing parallels to Thielen.. Adam made the most of his limited opportunities in his first two years. Enough so that myself and all that I knew were impressed with him and wondering why he was not being used more way back when.. Not so with Treadwell. I was kind of hoping that they would sign Brandon Marshall too.