Vikings star Justin Jefferson plays his contract situation cool and welcomes the pressure
EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — Justin Jefferson walked off the Minnesota Vikings practice field once the first session of training camp was finished, looking as fit and lean as ever with his easy, wide smile framing his designer sunglasses.
He was the picture of cool, hardly sweating the absence of a contract extension.
“That’s not the words that I have right now. Really, I’m about winning a Super Bowl,” Jefferson said. “Just getting the wins and being with my team. The contract is going to play itself out, and I’m just out here to play football.”
The relentless drive and gregarious presence of Jefferson sure keeps the tension to a minimum in Minnesota. The unresolved contract situation for outside linebacker Danielle Hunter appears to be much more of an issue for the club this summer even though Jefferson was absent all spring on his own offseason training and business agenda.
Jefferson has two years remaining on his rookie deal, for one. He’s also blossomed into the type of superstar at a premium position that there’s little doubt the Vikings will ante up. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has said, perhaps tongue in cheek, he wouldn’t even want to stay on the job without Jefferson on the roster. The negotiation between the Vikings and Jefferson’s representatives is in the “constant ongoing dialogue” phase, Adofo-Mensah said this week.
“There’s certain types of players you want around — players who love football, are great at football, make their teammates better, have that winning spirit,” Adofo-Mensah said. “I’ll never forget when I first met him, he just talked about winning.”
The Vikings are breaking in a rookie wide receiver, Jordan Addison, this season after jettisoning veteran Adam Thielen for salary cap savings. They’ve increased K.J. Osborn’s role, banking on the fourth-year player’s ability to do enough damage to keep defenses honest and reduce the burden of coverage that Jefferson will continue to see. Tight end T.J. Hockenson will play a big part in that, too.
Still, the onus will be on Jefferson to continue to evolve as a route-runner and pass-catcher after a thrilling third season during which he led the NFL with 128 receptions and 1,809 yards and won the AP Offensive Player of the Year award.
“That’s nothing new. I love the target on my back. That means more pressure toward me. That means more people looking at me, and it opens up more people,” Jefferson said.
The Vikings, starting with quarterback Kirk Cousins, ought to be on track for a smoother and more productive season as an offense now that they have a full year in head coach Kevin O’Connell’s system.
“I’m always confident in me and Kirk’s relationship. Since I’ve been here our relationship has gotten better and better. I feel like he’s trusting me more. I’m trusting him more. The more we play together, the better we are,” Jefferson said.
One place that was on Jefferson’s offseason itinerary was Brazil, where he befriended soccer star Vinicius Jr. in Brazil. Jefferson traveled to South America as part of his role as one of the NFL’s global flag football ambassadors to help promote the alternative sport.
“One of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever visited. It was definitely an eye-opener, just being with Vinicius Jr., seeing the type of life he lives over there and just being a part of that culture and that vibe. It definitely was a great experience,” Jefferson said. “I love being a face of the league, but I’ll be even more a face of the league once I get a Super Bowl.”
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Darius Slay intercepts a pass intended for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, left, during the second half of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)