Well-Deserved Jefferson Extension Gives Vikings Extra Cap Room to Sign More Vet Help

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Justin Jefferson’s newly signed four-year, $140 million extension is great news for him and the Vikings organization who with the structure of the contract have over $11 million in additional salary cap room to pursue another veteran corner and help at other positions.

Jefferson is now deservedly the NFL’s highest paid wide receiver. He also attained his goal of passing Nick Bosa by $1 million per year to become the highest paid non quarterback at $35 million per year in new money. He has reset the wide receiver market, jumping ahead (as expected) of A.J. Brown who currently ranks No. 2 at $32 million per year on his recent extension.

Next up to likely fall in line behind Jefferson and ahead of Brown will be Dallas’ CeeDee Lamb as he enters the final year of his rookie contract and Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase (now eligible for an extension as a fourth-year player).

justin jefferson
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Five-time First-team All-Pro Tyreek Hill also is seeking a new deal as his $30 million per year deal signed with the Dolphins in 2022 will soon rank fifth or lower among wide receivers (the Lions’ Amon-Ra St. Brown recently signed a similar deal to Hill for $120 million over four years).   

It’s a reflection on the NFL as a pass-oriented league that wide receivers now earn almost double compared to the highest paid running back (Christian McCaffrey at $19 million per year under his new extension with most backs falling far short of that salary). Only 10 years ago, the spread was just $2 million per year between the highest paid wide receivers (Larry Fitzgerald Jr. and Calvin Johnson at $16 million) and the highest paid running back ($14 million for Adrian Peterson).

Since then, wide receiver salaries have skyrocketed—especially in recent years– while the running backs have basically stayed at the same level. 

It seems like a weekly occurrence with a huge wide receiver contract getting signed. DeVonta Smith signed a three-year, $75 million extension in mid-April. Then came St. Brown and A.J. Brown before Jefferson cashed in on his massive deal that includes $110 million guaranteed.
Back in 1998, I signed Hall of Famer Cris Carter to a $5.5 million per year deal that made him one of the NFL’s best paid receivers. Jefferson now will make seven times as much on his new deal.

Jefferson is the latest beneficiary of wide receiver salary inflation that looks to continue at least for the near future. In a few years, it could be Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze from this year’s draft class or Puka Nacua, Garrett Wilson, Nico Collins or Zay Flowers from recent drafts to jump up to the top of the wide receiver salary scale. But it certainly could be Jefferson who turns 25 in two weeks and may again reset the WR market with another extension before he goes into the last year of this contract in 2028 at 29 years old.

For the Vikings, it was a must-sign of the league’s best receiver and their best player who is a team captain and by far the most popular Vikings player. His national platform has grown with endorsement deals and he is a media-friendly player.

The somewhat underplayed benefit is the structure of the contract that benefits both Jefferson and the Vikings. Jefferson reportedly is receiving a $37 million signing bonus that for salary cap purposes is spread over the life of the contract. The signing bonus is part of his $110 million guarantee.

Justin Jefferson
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With the big signing bonus, Jefferson’s 2024 salary cap hit was reduced from $19.743 million (under the scheduled fifth-year option of his rookie deal) to $8.512 million. In 2025, Jefferson’s cap hit is a manageable $15.318 million. Then it jumps to $39.137 million in 2026 but the team can then restructure the deal to reduce his cap number and the salary cap should have risen significantly by then (as was the case with the $30 million bump this year).

This cap reduction for the next two years was achieved through the signing bonus, low base salaries of $1.125 million in 2024 and $1.170 million in 2025 and a $30 million guaranteed option bonus in 2025.
The Vikings available cap space for this year has increased by $11.231 million so the team currently has $27.492 million of room per Spotrac (ninth most in the league) with Jefferson’s deal and the wise re-signing of guard Dalton Risner the latest moves. But Risner’s deal (a projected $3-4 million cap hit) and the signings to come of the two first-round picks—McCarthy and Dallas Turner at an estimated total of $7 million–are not yet included in this cap calculation.

So the Vikings should have about $17 million of current cap space and will need a portion of that when all players count against the cap after the final cut vs. the top 51 until then. The team also can free up room by restructuring a high-salaried player such as Brian O’Neill who carries a $22.9 million cap number.

The dead money issue that hit hard this year ($57.4 million, third most in the league) should be under $10 million next year when the huge dead money hits from Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter are gone (and the Vikings are projected to have $64 million in cap space—eighth most in the league which is a big switch from recent years– based on a projected cap of $273 million which could easily increase since that’s only an $18 million increase when the cap went up $30 million this year).

I think the Jefferson extension with his cap savings opens the door for the Vikings to reinforce their questionable cornerback group by signing one of the quality corners still available in free agency. I haven’t seen enough consistently high-level play from recent draftees Mekhi Blackmon, Akayleb Evans or Andrew Booth Jr. to feel confident in any of them as third and fourth corners to go with vet starters Byron Murphy and Shaquill Griffin. I do like Blackmon the most of that trio as he enters his second season after an up-and-down rookie year.

Stephon Gilmore is a former Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowler with 31 career interceptions. He is 33-years old but he’s coming off a fine season as a Cowboys starter (68 tackles, two interceptions and 13 passes defensed as he started every game). 

Xavien Howard, 30, is a four-time Pro Bowl corner and two-time NFL interceptions leader with the Dolphins who played under Vikings DC Brian Flores when he was Miami’s head coach in 2019-2021. Howard started 13 games last season and 15 in 2022 as he’s dealt with knee problems. He had 45 tackles, one interception and 12 passes defensed in 2023 and like Gilmore, Howard is a ball hawk with 29 career picks. 
Either one of those vets could be a big help as Patrick Peterson was a couple years ago.

The Vikings also may try to use this newly added cap money from the Jefferson deal to further reinforce their defensive line and wide receiver corps where a third WR must emerge after the departure of K.J. Osborn (with Jalen Nailor, Brandon Powell and Trent Sherfield currently the top candidates).

Overall, the Jefferson deal always was going to get done but until it was finalized, there was a bit of doubt that fueled wild trade rumors. Now that cloud has been lifted and the quarterback derby between Sam Darnold and J.J. McCarthy becomes even more front and center.

Meanwhile, capitalizing on the extra cap space created by the Jefferson contract structure should be a goal for the Vikings brass in order to improve the team’s chances to compete successfully in the tough NFC North this season.

Vikings Minicamp Observations

Capped Off
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Jefferson hit the practice field Tuesday as a newly-extended player, ending any holdout or hold-in drama. He quickly worked back into the mix after missing recent OTA sessions and caught several passes in 11-on-11 drills including a third-down catch from Darnold.

It’s interesting to see 6-foot-4, 225 pound N’Keal Harry being switched from his usual wide receiver position to tight end. The Vikings previously added ex-Packer and Bear Robert Tonyan to go with returnees Josh Oliver and Johnny Mundt as the Vikings try to add help in case Pro Bowler T.J. Hockenson is not fully recovered from his late-season ACL injury in time to start the regular season opener at the Giants.
The Vikings also worked on the run game and play-action passes to running backs Aaron Jones and Ty Chandler.

The mandatory minicamp runs through Thursday this week before the final OTA sessions next Monday through Thursday. Then the team is off until training camp in late July without having to worry about when or if their best player’s contract situation will be resolved.

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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