Justin Jefferson Contract: Vikings Need Salary Cap Moves to Give WR $30M
The Justin Jefferson contract is one of the best deals in the NFL right now. The 23-year-old wide receiver has made the Pro Bowl in each of his first three pro seasons and has never gone for less than 1,400 receiving yards in a season. Plus, he’s getting better each year. In 2022, he led the league in receptions (128) and receiving yards (1,809) while making first-team All-Pro for the first time and winning Offensive Player of the Year. That’s why Jefferson is going to get a massive extension sooner rather than later that will make him the highest-paid WR in the league. But first, the Minnesota Vikings salary cap needs some work.
The Justin Jefferson contract
As the No. 22 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft, the Vikings wideout signed an initial Justin Jefferson contract for four years, $13,122,805 with a $7,103,856 signing bonus, $13,122,805 guaranteed, and an average annual value (AAV) of $3,280,701.
That AAV makes him the 58th-highest-paid WR in the NFL heading into 2023.
This coming season, Jefferson is in the last year of the four-year deal and will make a $2,399,473 base salary, with $1,775,964 in prorated signing bonus for a $4,175,437 cap hit, which, again, is the 52nd-biggest cap hit for a WR in the league.
As a first-round pick, the Vikings have the option to add a fifth-year to the Justin Jefferson contract. Because of his Pro Bowl success, Jefferson’s fifth-year option would be for the maximum amount for his position and draft spot, which is 19,743,000 for 2024.
This is the offseason where teams will start giving extensions to 2020 draftees, and Jefferson has to be near the head of the line for that. Spotrac.com estimates his market value at an AAV of $26.7 million.
That would make Jefferson the fourth-highest-paid WR in the league behind Tyreek Hill ($30M), Davante Adams ($28M), and DeAndre Hopkins ($27.25M). However, given Jefferson’s age and accomplishments, it would be a shock if the Vikings didn’t make him the highest-paid pass-catcher when they give him the extension.
The question around the Justin Jefferson contract then becomes, how can the Vikings’ salary cap support that?
The Minnesota Vikings’ salary cap situation
Heading into the 2023 NFL offseason, Minnesota isn’t in a great spot when it comes to the Vikings’ salary cap. The franchise is currently in 28th place in terms of available cap space with a $-21,319,469 balance right now.
The good news is the Vikings won’t have to clear $30 million to give out a massive Justin Jefferson contract extension. They can structure it in a way where the AAV is over $30 million, but the cap hit in 2023 is somewhere around half that.
And then, when Kirk Cousins’ $36.2 million comes off the books next season, the Jefferson deal will be much easier to fit.
The first Vikings salary cap moves are to restructure big contracts that can support it by lowering a veteran’s base, converting the rest to signing bonus, and prorating it over the life of the deal.
Minnesota can do this with right tackle Brian O’Neil ($9.9M saved), defensive tackle Harrison Phillips ($1.6M saved), and running back Dalvin Cook ($6.2M saved). All told, re-doing those deals will save the Vikings around $17.8 million.
Then comes the hard part.
There are several players who will help the Vikings cap if the team cuts them. Those players include wide receiver Adam Thielen ($6.4M saved), safety Harrison Smith ($7.3M saved), and edge-rusher Za’Darius Smith ($13.6M saved).
All those moves together provide $45.3 million in savings and get the Vikings’ salary cap space up to $22.5 million. And that’s where the team needs to be in order to give out a huge new Justin Jefferson contract extension this offseason.