Former Vikings GM Weighs in on Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter Contracts

Ever Struggled So Mightily?
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

In my early GM years, before free agency and the salary cap came to the NFL in 1994, the month of July was extremely busy as almost all our draftees and unsigned vets waited until shortly before training camp to finish their contract negotiations. That made for a much less enjoyable July 4th holiday, as I knew what a hectic time was ahead.  

Former Vikings GM Weighs in on Justin Jefferson, Danielle Hunter Contracts

It all changed when the cap and unrestricted free agency was instituted under the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the pressure point changed dramatically to March for free agent signings and shortly after the April draft for the rookies. The players and agents wanted to get their deals done asap before available salary cap money began to shrink quickly. As is the case in today’s NFL, only a couple of players left to sign by mid-June.  

That’s where Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and Executive VP-Football Operations Rob Brzezinski find themselves after their post-minicamp summer break with less than three weeks remaining before training camp opens on July 23 for rookies and July 25 for vets.  

Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah at the 2023 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, IN. The Vikings finished 13-4 in the first year under Adofo-Mensah’s general management.

Obviously, the two major items on their pre-camp to-do list are the extensions for superstar receiver Justin Jefferson and top pass rusher Danielle Hunter, the team’s best offensive and defensive player.  

Jefferson is last year’s league-leading receiver with 128 catches for 1,809 yards and eight TDs and a three-time Pro Bowler at 24 years old. He was a First-team All-Pro last season and is clearly the Vikings’ most popular player.  

J.J. has said he will report to training camp even if his extension is not yet completed, but I would expect in that scenario, he would be very selective in the drills he participates in, and he would avoid the contact in joint practice sessions upcoming with the Titans and Cardinals (along with sitting out preseason games which is Coach Kevin O’Connell’s M.O. with most starters anyway). That would be my strong advice in order to avoid injury if I was his agent (yet by reporting and participating in meetings and walkthroughs, he would not be fined).  

But I fully expect Jefferson’s $30 million plus per year (in new money) deal to get done before camp opens.  

Justin Jefferson insulted
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

As I have previously written, Hunter’s extension is more difficult due to his injury history and that he’s scheduled to make only $5.4 million this season due to moving up a significant amount of his 2023 salary into his recent compensation.  

I see getting the three-time Pro Bowler’s deal done by training camp time a necessity for the Vikings defense to have a chance to improve under new defensive coordinator Brian Flores. There are no other double-digit sackers in multiple years (including 10.5 sacks, 22 QB hits, and 65 tackles last season) on the current roster. Plus, Hunter needs to be in camp to be sure his conditioning is up to speed to help him avoid the injury bug. 

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

And speaking of sacks and potential pre-camp or in-camp signings for the Vikings, I still would recommend, after getting Jefferson and Hunter extended, that the team uses some of the reported $19.2 million in cap room to sign an available free agent pass rusher in veteran Justin Houston (9.5 sacks for Baltimore last season). Or, at a steeper price (perhaps with voidable years to lower the cap hit), shore up the secondary by signing a solid vet corner in Marcus Peters, who started 13 games for the Ravens in 2022.  

Of course, all NFL teams must consider that after the final cut in September, all players count against the cap, so a cushion is needed, but Houston especially could be a bargain signing after making $3.5 million in salary and signing bonus plus $1 million in sack incentives last season. 

So there are still a few things to do before it’s go-time in late July and heading into what should be an exciting and fascinating 2023 season for the Vikings. 

Around the NFL Observations: 

All NFL quarterbacks are under pressure to perform well, win and make the playoffs in a given season (such as Kirk Cousins going into his final year under contract), but I did an analysis for The 33rd Team national website in which I picked five quarterbacks who are under extra pressure to avoid being considered one-hit wonders after highly successful 2022 seasons that were their first big NFL season.  

They are Seattle’s Geno Smith, the Giants’ Daniel Jones, Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, and in what may be surprising to some people that he’s on my list — Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. Despite his lofty status last season as the runner-up to Patrick Mahomes for league MVP and his selection as Second-team All-Pro, it was Hurts’ first big season as a starting QB.   

Hurts played ok in his first year as starting QB in 2021 with an 8-7 record, but his completion percentage was only 61.3%, and he had a mediocre passer rating of 87.2. The Eagles made the playoffs as the No. 7 NFC seed, and Hurts committed three turnovers in a 31-15 loss to the Buccaneers.  

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports.

Hurts was blessed with a tremendous supporting cast on offense in 2022 and significantly improved his play as he passed for 3,701 yards (22 TDs, 8 interceptions), raised his completion percentage to 66.5%, and his passer rating to 101.5 (5th best in the league). He also ran for 760 yards and 13 TDs. He went 14-1 as the starting QB and led Philadelphia to the Super Bowl, where he threw for 304 yards and a TD and rushed for 70 yards and three TDs (both Super Bowl records for a rushing QB). Hurts was selected to his first Pro Bowl and was rewarded with a huge contract extension (five years, $255 million with $179 million in total guarantees).  

The 25-year-old Hurts appears to have a great future ahead, but he faces huge expectations to lead the Eagles back to the Super Bowl and win it. He must again prove he belongs in the MVP conversation, as he plays in a city with a very demanding fan base. The Vikings will get an early look at Hurts’ 2023 performance in a challenging Week 2 Thursday night game at Philly.  

Jeff Diamond is a former Vikings GM, former Tennessee Titans President and was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. He now works for the NFL agent group IFA based in Minneapolis and does other sports consulting and media work along with college/corporate speaking. Follow him and direct message him on Twitter– @jeffdiamondnfl