OCTOBER 15: In a full-length piece, Schefter reiterates his earlier point that Jefferson could miss the rest of the season if the Vikings are out of contention by the time he is healthy enough to return to the field. From a purely medical perspective, Jefferson stands to miss up to six weeks, and he will undergo imaging tests in four weeks’ time to determine his status.
OCTOBER 12: After going three-plus seasons without missing a game, Justin Jefferson is set to miss at least four. After a hamstring injury in Week 5, the Vikings placed the superstar wide receiver on IR. A few factors could determine Jefferson’s true return timetable.
The Vikings do not expect this injury to require more than the four-week minimum, per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport; that would give Jefferson a Week 11 reentrance stage. Kevin O’Connell said (via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Ben Goessling) the team does not view this as a season-ending injury, though the second-year HC labeled it “significant” in nature. While hamstring injuries present potential for aggravation, they are rarely deemed as season-threatening maladies — at least, not at this point on the calendar. That said, both Keenan Allen and Darren Waller missed large chunks of last season due to hamstring ailments.
Jefferson’s summer contract talks may also play into this. After an early-summer report indicated the Vikings were fine tabling these negotiations to 2024, the team attempted a late push to extend the record-setting pass catcher before Week 1. These talks went up against the season opener but did not produce a deal. Despite T.J. Hockenson signing a monster tight end extension, the Vikings have their best player in Year 4 of a rookie contract. Although no team has picked up a wide receiver’s fifth-year option and extended him with two years of control remaining, the Vikings appeared close to breaking this precedent with Jefferson.
The team not doing so opens the door to the wideout playing this cautiously and, as ESPN.com’s Adam Schefter noted, the Vikes’ record by the time Jefferson is moving closer to a return could factor into these proceedings. After turning a negative point differential into a 13-4 season, the Vikings are 1-4 and potentially staring at some decisions before the trade deadline. The team already cut ties with a few veterans this offseason — Dalvin Cook, Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks, Za’Darius Smith — and has other names to monitor ahead of the deadline. Danielle Hunter is in a contract year, and Harrison Smith took a pay cut this offseason. Both Pro Bowlers would appeal to other teams, should the Vikings become serious about selling.
Regarding Jefferson’s contract situation, it is unlikely his value would diminish if he aggravated this short-term injury by coming back too soon. The 2020 first-rounder will enter the offseason in position to command an extension that separates him from his peers, presenting the Vikings with a potentially challenging negotiation. Jefferson’s stats will obviously take a hit this year, but a secure long-term outlook will allow him to take his time in recovering, especially if the team remains under .500 when he is due back.
Kirk Cousins could theoretically join Smith and Hunter as a high-profile trade chip, being unsigned beyond this season and agreeing to an offseason restructure that dropped his 2023 base salary to $10MM. But the sixth-year Vikings starter holds a no-trade clause. He has indicated several times he would prefer to stay in Minnesota and did not address the topic (via ESPN’s Kevin Seifert) when asked if he would waive his clause to be moved this season.
The Vikings cannot realistically tag Cousins in 2024, due to the two Washington tags that led him to the Twin Cities in 2018, giving the team an interesting scenario with its longtime starter. Cousins, 35, can set himself up for yet another payday by playing well this season. With the QB not expecting to discuss another contract until after the season, the Vikes will soon find themselves in a time crunch. Jefferson’s absence stands to impact this, however, and it will be interesting to see if Cousins adjusts his stance if the Vikes continue to stumble.
Cousins reaching the market would put him in position for a fourth lucrative contract, and ESPN.com’s Dan Graziano notes an AFC exec mentioned Derek Carr‘s $37.5MM-per-year Saints deal as a good comp for Cousins. Then again, Cousins has posted better numbers than Carr and has navigated the financial landscape about as well as anyone in NFL history. But the ex-fourth-rounder will be going into his age-36 season in 2024, limiting his value to some degree. This process will put the Vikings to a decision, as Cousins’ abilities may lead to the team winning enough games to move out of realistic range to nab a replacement near the top of the draft.
The Vikings used a fifth-round pick on Jaren Hall in April; as of now, the BYU product is Cousins’ backup. Nick Mullens moved to IR on Wednesday, and ex-Cousins backup Sean Mannion returned to the practice squad. Prior to reacquiring Mannion, the Vikings worked out Colt McCoy, GOPHNX.com’s Howard Balzer tweets. McCoy, 37, has been a free agent since the Cardinals released him just before the season. While he was connected to both the Patriots and Jets recently, the journeyman backup is still unattached.