Justin Jefferson reset the WR market. He might just reset the record books

It was never a matter of if — it was always when.

The Minnesota Vikings made Justin Jefferson the highest-paid non-quarterback in the NFL on Monday, resetting the wide receiver market and besting San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa with a four-year, $140 million contract that includes $110 million guaranteed. It averages out to $35 million per year for the 24-year-old.

Jefferson becomes the eighth wide receiver to receive a contract with a $23M annual average per year in this offseason alone.

Even amid reported trade inquiries and offers, Minnesota remained steadfast in its desire to retain and reward Jefferson

“From the moment I arrived in Minnesota, Justin has consistently proven to be one of the best players in the NFL on and off the field and we are excited about having him as a cornerstone of our team for a long time to come,” said general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah in a statement.

Jefferson has now catapulted to the face of the Vikings franchise, one of the only non-quarterbacks in the league to hold that indefinable title. It’s even reminiscent of another wide receiver to wear the purple and gold — Randy Moss. Somehow, the Vikings have become synonymous with generational pass-catchers.

If that sounds like a tall order for Jefferson to live up to, let me assure you it isn’t. If we’re going by the first four years of Jefferson’s career, he already has three All-Pro nods, three Pro Bowl selections and led all receivers in yards on the way to his 2022 Offensive Player of the Year Award. Though Jefferson started just nine games for the Vikings in 2023 due to injury, he still surpassed 1,000 receiving yards and averaged 107.4 yards per game, one more yard than his 2022 average.

It puts Jefferson on a trajectory that doesn’t just rival Moss’ numbers, but surpasses them. Jefferson has amassed 5,899 yards in his first four seasons in Minnesota. He accomplished it in 57 games started. Moss’s first four years in Minnesota? He played in 59 games, which resulted in 5,396 receiving yards and 91.5 yards per game. Moss had two All-Pros and three Pro Bowl nods in that span. 

Widely considered one of the best receivers of all time, Moss finished his 16-year career with 15,292 yards and 156 touchdowns. He averaged 70.1 yards per game with a catch rate of 56.4 percent. 

Should Jefferson continue at last year’s pace of 107.4 yards per game, he will reach Moss’ receiving yards numbers in his ninth season, just one more year beyond his current contract. 

That’s bonkers. 

Now, injury and various factors make that a convoluted projection, of course, but there are advanced metrics that suggest Jefferson has been more productive than he was supposed to be. Since entering the NFL in 2020, Jefferson has the most of any player with at least 250 targets of 1,270 receiving yards over expectation. 

Jefferson also has the second-most receiving yards in that span behind only Miami’s Tyreek Hill. And while Jefferson ranks ninth among qualified receivers in yards after the catch in that span, he ranks seventh in yards after the catch over expectation, per Next Gen Stats.

Such indicators make it easier to say that what we can count on is Jefferson staying incredibly productive for years to come. This is especially true given his young age and how the league in its current iteration thrives off prolific passing attacks.

The Vikings are Jefferson’s team now, no matter who the quarterback ends up being.

Vikings sign Justin Jefferson to record 4-year extension

As such, Jefferson can play a huge role in helping Minnesota’s first-round rookie quarterback, J.J. McCarthy, develop. Jefferson can actively make things easier on a young signal-caller not only by how reliable he is with his career 68.1 percent catch rate, but with how easy of a target he is. Jefferson isn’t overly big. He stands 6-foot-1 and weighs under 200 pounds. But since entering the league, he is tied for the sixth-most “easy targets,” according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats.

This latest paycheck and face of the franchise moniker still doesn’t put Jefferson under any obligation to be responsible for Minnesota’s overall success. The bulk of the offensive development still lies with head coach Kevin O’Connell, of course. But the Vikings knew the team would be worse off without their star hideout, and given his body of work, knew he deserved a market-setting deal. They also know the kind of message it sends to young draft picks like McCarthy or even wide receiver Jordan Addison, who the team took in the first round last year. Do right by us and we’ll do right by you.

And the Vikings certainly did right by Jefferson. It was always a matter of when, not if.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV

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