There Will Be 2 Humongous Vikings Contract Extensions

Vikings Arrange Meeting with Top Receiver Prospect
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) warms up wearing a shirt honoring Buffalo Bills Safety Damar Hamlin (3) before the game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings are amid a busy offseason. Longtime Vikings stars Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen had to leave the organization because of cap-saving moves. Another big move, or non-move, was the decision to let quarterback Kirk Cousins play out his contract. He’s entering the final year of his deal for the first time since signing with the Vikings in 2018.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was busy in free agency, especially in the first few days when he signed cornerback Byron Murphy, pass rusher Marcus Davenport, tight end Josh Oliver, and defensive tackle Dean Lowry. While free agency cooled down for the purple team, contract extension talks should heat up with two of the team’s top players.

There Will Be 2 Humongous Vikings Contract Extensions

In addition to drafting some potential future stars, the Vikings must make some crucial decisions for the franchise’s future with the stars already on the team.

There Will Be 2 Humongous Vikings Contract Extensions
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) during the first quarter against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Justin Jefferson and tight end T.J. Hockenson are eligible for contract extensions, and the Vikings certainly want to keep them around. Jefferson was a 2020 draft pick. Players can sign a new deal after their first three seasons in the league.

Jefferson claimed one year ago that he would perform at a high level in 2022. In fact, he claimed that he would be regarded as the league’s top wideout after his third campaign, and he undoubtedly did that. The receiver led the league in receiving yards and receptions as the youngest to ever do both in the same year, breaking an ancient record.

In addition, Jefferson now has the most receiving yards in the first three seasons of any player in NFL history, breaking Randy Moss’ record. He also broke the Hall of Famer’s record for most receiving yards in a season in franchise history and topped Cris Carter’s franchise-best mark for most catches in a season. Since he entered the league in 2020, Jefferson has recorded the most receiving yards by almost 400 yards.

Nov 20, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) and wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) and offensive tackle Blake Brandel (64) and teammates react during the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

There’s no doubt that Jefferson is one of the elite players in football. His contract will be huge, and he has earned it. The top annual salary in the league among receivers is held by Tyreek Hill, earning an average of $30 million a year from the Dolphins, followed by Davante Adams, making an average of $28 million per season.

While all three are top wideouts, they clearly were the three most productive receivers in the last three seasons. There’s a big difference between the two and Jefferson. Adams is 31, Hill is 29, and Jefferson is 23. Barring injuries, Jefferson has potentially another decade of excellent play left in the tank, making his deal even more significant. Of course, no one will bat an eye when the reigning Offensive Player of the Year resets the receiver market.

The Vikings will likely pick up his fifth-year option in the next few weeks and extend his contract for many more seasons. A deal north of $30 million per season seems inevitable.

Kirk Cousins Evidently
Dec 17, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson (87) celebrates his two-point conversion during the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Another Vikings star needs to get a new deal if the Vikings want to keep him around. T.J. Hockenson is currently scheduled to play on his fifth-year option in the upcoming season, but it’s the final year of his contract.

Halfway through the 2022 season, the Vikings traded in the division for the tight end, a fantastic move. Hockenson instantly became an essential part of the offense, basically replacing Adam Thielen as the second option.

Hockenson finished second among tight ends with 914 receiving yards, only trailing Travis Kelce. In 11 games with the Vikings, Hockenson recorded 648 receiving yards. Unlike Jefferson, the tight end is not a transcendent player but a really good one. The only universally viewed better players at the position are Travis Kelce and George Kittle.

Five tight ends have an average annual salary of $14 million or more. New Giants’ TE Darren Waller ranks first with $17 million, followed by Kittle, Kelce, Dallas Goedert, and Mark Andrews. Players like Jonnu Smith, David Njoku, and Dawson Knox all earn north of $10 million per season. Hockenson should easily clear that mark. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him demanding to be paid like a top-five player at his position.

Jefferson and Hockenson should be in line to earn somewhere in the range of $44 million per season on average, and the Vikings don’t have many options other than getting extensions done. Teams can’t let the high-end talent walk.

Vikings on Another
Nov 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah looks on before the game against the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Because of those huge investments, the Vikings could look at the biggest market advantage in the league, a quarterback on a rookie deal, especially considering that the GM is an analytically driven man looking for efficient solutions in all areas. The two stars will eat up that difference, but the organization has to save the money for the duo somewhere.

The Vikings will most likely draft a quarterback either in 2023 or 2024 to succeed Kirk Cousins, but the draft position is not ideal when the team picks at 23 on April 27, and the team is too good for a top pick next year. There’s a reasonable chance that the Vikings will target guys like Hendon Hooker or Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Both have some intriguing tools but also some flaws and, most importantly, should be available when the team is on the clock.

No matter who the next guy is, O’Connell’s and Adofo-Mensah’s tenure will be judged on who throws in the direction of Jefferson and Hockenson in the next few years. It will be the most significant decision for the organization’s future in years.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt