Repeat the Stefon Diggs Gambit, Declares ESPN Analyst

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General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O’Connell, the two main characters in the Vikings universe, must make some crucial decisions for the organization’s future in the next few months. With some valuable players scheduled to leave free agency and a bunch of holes to fill, spending the limited resources wisely to assemble a solid roster for the 2024 season and beyond is critical.

Repeat the Stefon Diggs Gambit, Declares ESPN Analyst

One way to boost the available assets is to eliminate some guys under contract to open more cap space. The most useful players would also fetch supplementary draft capital that could be added to the valuable 11th and 42nd overall picks.

Repeat the Stefon Diggs Gambit, Declares ESPN Analyst
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

There have been speculations about a potential Justin Jefferson trade multiple times, for good reason. He is one of the best players in football, and only a hamstring injury forcing him to miss seven games has slowed him down in his career, although he still eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2023.

ESPN’s Aaron Schatz wrote up one move for each of the 32 NFL teams that would be bold but helpful in the long run and, of course, he wants the Vikings to sell Jefferson for a couple of draft selections.

This would truly be a bold move because Jefferson is a great receiver. This suggestion is not to belittle Jefferson’s abilities. He has ranked in the top 12 for wide receiver DVOA in all four of his NFL seasons, and he was in the top three for total value in his three healthy seasons (i.e. not 2023).

However, Jefferson’s salary just ballooned to $19.7 million because of his fifth-year option in 2024, and it’s going to be higher than that if the Vikings can sign him to a long-term extension. He is also making noise that he wants to know the team’s future quarterback plans before he signs that extension. He probably wants Kirk Cousins back. Cousins had one of his best half-seasons in 2023, but giving him another long-term deal at age 35 might not be the best decision for Minnesota’s future.

Aaron Schatz
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Jefferson’s value for the franchise is immeasurable because he is the face of the team in addition to his historical production. Elite players, those on a Hall of Fame path, are rarely traded. The former LSU standout has produced the most receiving yards in a player’s first four seasons ever and is the all-time leader in receiving yards per game.

Earlier in the offseason, Tom Pelissero reported that the 24-year-old wants to know Minnesota’s long-term plans at the QB position, though Jefferson stated that he doesn’t care about that as he will produce regardless. It is fair that a player of his caliber who is slated to sign a record-breaking contract inquires about the most important player on the roster, the guy who throws him the ball. At the end of the day, however, there has been no indication that he doesn’t intend to be a Viking for years to come.

Would the Vikings without
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But Schatz sees an opportunity to save the cap space and get some draft capital to find his replacement and a franchise QB:

So why not just go for a total reset? Trade Jefferson for a couple of high draft picks. Use one of them to draft his replacement, the same way the Vikings traded away Stefon Diggs and used the pick they got in return to draft Jefferson. Perhaps that pick can be used on a young quarterback, or to trade up for a better young quarterback.

Meanwhile, shaving Cousins and Jefferson off the team’s salary ledger will allow the Vikings to sign a number of free agents to improve other positions, building a team that’s ready to compete once they figure out their quarterback situation (presumably with a youngster in either 2024 or 2025).

Aaron Schatz

Let’s say the Vikings land a pair of first-round selections. They could use one to find his successor in an excellent W.R. class and use the second and 11th overall pick to trade up and grab the new franchise passer. The conserved cap space would be used to sign a couple of high-end free agents.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In theory, that sounds like a great deal. However, neither the rookie QB nor the receiver is guaranteed to be good. Finding a Jefferson after trading away a Pro Bowler like Stefon Diggs is unusual. It is doubtful that the direct replacement is worse than J.J., and he may be a bust. The Titans traded away A.J. Brown and selected Treylon Burks with the pick they got in return.

Lacking a decent receiver perhaps cost their GM and HC the job. Misses on highly-drafted QBs are also common (although fear shouldn’t discourage the franchise from drafting one).

It might work. The Vikings could land Garrett Wilson and C.J. Stroud. But they could also get Burks and Zach Wilson in return, which is less than ideal. The draft is a lottery; even great prospects aren’t guaranteed to work out. Acquiring more lottery tickets and trading away the safe but exceptional commodity seems like a bold but terrible idea.

Mullens Not
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

The best-case scenario for the Vikings is to agree on a contract extension with their star and find Kirk Cousins’ successor without dispatching the best player. Schatz’s idea and all other trade packages that include the 2022 Offensive Player of the Year should remain just that, an idea.

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