Vikings GM Fires Back Against Criticism for Paying Justin Jefferson

As there’s growing evidence that the wide receiver position has the biggest impact on an NFL game besides quarterback, Minnesota Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was put to the biggest test of that trend with Justin Jefferson.

The 25-year-old superstar wide receiver had posted the most receiving yards by any player in league history through his first four seasons, making a case to not only be the highest-paid receiver but also the highest-paid non-quarterback in the league.

However, top-end receivers are becoming a dime-a-dozen coming out of college given the amount of talent and readiness prospects are now showing. The 2024 draft had seven wide receivers taken in the first round, tied for the most ever. Since 2020, 28 receivers have been taken in the first round. Thirty-four were taken in the first round in the previous decade.

Of the 21 first-round receivers selected since 2020 that have played a full season in the league, seven have made a Pro Bowl appearance and 14 have posted a 1,000-plus yard season.

There’s an argument to be made that, with the impact young receivers are making right out of college, there’s no need to pay Jefferson a premium contract. The Vikings were ahead of that trend when they traded away Stefon Diggs the same year they extended Kirk Cousins and used that pick to draft Jefferson.

Adofo-Mensah is well aware of the cost of signing Jefferson to a four-year, $140 million extension on June 3 but understands a truth about building a winning organization: you need superstar talent, which rarely becomes available in free agency.

“Would I rather have a quarterback at this level or a wide receiver at this level or a rusher at this level,” Adofo-Mensah said, detailing his assessment of Jefferson’s megadeal, per The Star Tribune. “But at the end of the day, studying teams that have gotten to the NFC Championship [Game], AFC Championship [Game], Super Bowl level, there’s a certain amount of talent that it requires.”

How Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is Opening Vikings’ Super Bowl Window

GettyGeneral manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah of the Minnesota Vikings.

When Adofo-Mensah took over as general manager in 2022, he defined the next two seasons as a “competitive rebuild.” He attempted to make the most of a roster brimming with veteran talent that Rick Spielman hemorrhaged the future to keep together and preserve their playoff hopes.

The 2022 season was wildly successful but on the whim of razor-thin margins. The Vikings had their 13-4 season ended in a first-round playoff loss to the New York Giants after going 11-0 in single-score games in the regular season.

Adofo-Mensah slowly tore down the roster while maintaining a culture of competitiveness before the ultimate  — parting ways with Cousins — arrived.

“I walked into a team that I thought, Kevin [O’Connell] thought, could win in Year 1,” Adofo-Mensah said. “But ultimately, we knew we had to get to this place.”

What followed was an exhaustive 85-day rehaul of the franchise.

From The Star Tribune’s Ben Goessling:

From March 11 to June 3, the Vikings:

• Let their starting quarterback and top pass rusher leave in free agency;

• Signed 14 unrestricted free agents, including a starting running back, three starting linebackers and a starting cornerback;

• Traded up to select a quarterback in the top 10 for the first time in franchise history;

• Traded up again to take a pass rusher in the first round for the first time since 2005;

• Made their top receiver the highest-paid nonquarterback in NFL history with a deal that includes nearly $70 million in cash through the first two years.

In dollars and draft picks, they paid dearly for players they hope can anchor the franchise. If it works, the Vikings might have given themselves a window for contention.

How the Vikings navigate building around Jefferson’s contract is the next step and ultimately where Adofo-Mensah and Kevin O’Connell saw themselves when they first took over in 2022.

“We’re not patting ourselves on the back here; that’s not how this is. We’re happy with our plan, but plans don’t get you far in this league,” Adofo-Mensah added. “It’s showing up here every day on the grass and getting better, and then me going in with my staff and trying to improve the team as best we can.”

The Vikings Have a Good Problem on the Horizon With Justin Jefferson, J.J. McCarthy

GettyJ.J. McCarthy #9 of the Minnesota Vikings.

While having a superstar quarterback is the ideal, there’s only a handful of players truly worth the gravity of the contract that they command.

The Kansas City Chiefs are churning through receivers on rookie-scale contracts after they declined to pay Tyreek Hill $30 million a year and traded him to the Miami Dolphins.

The Chiefs have the luxury of taking swings at receiver, many of which have not panned out, due to having a transcendent quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. Mahomes can compensate for, and elevate, the talent around him.

The Vikings hope they may see that one day from J.J. McCarthy.

The next four years, the Vikings are building toward a roster that emulates the San Francisco 49ers or the Philadelphia Eagles — both teams with deep rosters and good, but not great quarterbacks.

If McCarthy realizes a higher level of play beyond his expectations where he can become a competent playmaker outside of the Vikings’ offensive infrastructure, they’ll likely make him one of the league’s highest-paid quarterbacks.

But that’s a crossroads that’s at least four years away. But for now, Jefferson is the biggest cheat code for giving McCarthy the best development path throughout his rookie contract.

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