Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson is elite. That isn’t news for anyone who has been paying attention to football over the past couple of years, but Jefferson is taking things to a whole new level this season. With the third-year receiver eligible for an extension as soon as this offseason, it’s time for the Vikings to start thinking about what his contract will be worth.
To say Jefferson is “elite” might even be underselling the player he is and the impact he has made on Minnesota’s offense since he joined the team. In the three years he’s been an NFL receiver, he has yet to have a season with fewer than 1,200 receiving yards, including this season. That’s right, 12 weeks and 11 games into the 2022 season, Jefferson already has 1,232 receiving yards, one single yard behind the Dolphins’ Tyreek Hill for the league lead. He’s on pace for more than 1,900 receiving yards, meaning he’d set a new career high for a second straight season, even after he recorded 1,400 receiving yards as a rookie, which was a modern NFL rookie record at the time.
Under new, offensive-minded head coach Kevin O’Connell’s offense, Jefferson has taken his game to new heights. He was always a great route-runner and vertical threat with phenomenal hands, particularly in contested-catch situations. Obviously, a player like that was able to get involved in the offense right away as a rookie, but under O’Connell, he’s getting the ball even more and doing more when he gets the ball.
JUSTIN JEFFERSON ASDGJSKDNFGKSDF;K
— NFL (@NFL) November 13, 2022
Catch got called back but not sure how @jjettas2 did this 😱
— NFL (@NFL) November 25, 2022
So far this season, Jefferson is seeing more targets, catching more passes, and stacking on more yards after the catch per game. His average depth of target may have dropped two and a half yards from where it was last year (12.4 to 9.9), but that’s due, in part, to the Vikings trying to get the ball in his hands more often to let him work. He’s up to 5.6 yards after the catch per reception, more than a full extra yard more than his 4.5 YAC per reception in 2021. On top of that, Jefferson once again leads the league in yards per touch with 15 after being the NFL leader in the same category last season with 14.3.
Kirk Cousins to YAC monster Justin Jefferson for 46 yards on 3rd and 11 pic.twitter.com/sM7kzuHuNg
— Will Ragatz (@WillRagatz) November 13, 2022
Of the Vikings’ 3,951 yards of total offense, Jefferson is responsible for 1,245 yards from scrimmage. That means 31% of all of Minnesota’s offensive output is through their third-year receiver. How much do you pay for someone who is that valuable to your offense?
A receiver of Jefferson’s caliber certainly is going to reset the wide receiver market for the second straight year. The benchmark to clear is Hill’s contract with a $30 million average annual value. Jefferson’s next contract absolutely could surpass that mark if he stays healthy and maintains this high level of performance and production for the rest of the year. An AAV of $31 or even $32 million is definitely not out of the question for the extension.
An interesting wrinkle in Jefferson’s extension will be how much of it is guaranteed money. Even Hill’s (and Davante Adams’) recent massive extension had less than half of the money fully guaranteed at signing. As a younger receiver than either Hill or Adams at just 23 years old, Jefferson can and should use that as an argument to demand extra guaranteed money, even if it’s on a shorter deal. There’s a good chance that however Justin Jefferson’s contract shakes out will set a new standard for receiver contracts both in terms of AAV and guaranteed money, especially as the wide receiver position continues to grow in relative positional value.