Rookie contracts are great for NFL teams and enable budding stars to earn “underpaid” classification.
Such is the case for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson, who was drafted in 2020. Jefferson enters the third year of his five-year rookie contract and will earn $4.2 million this season, about $26 million less than likeminded players at his position.
Jefferson’s relatively small contractual number in 2021 isn’t necessarily a gridiron injustice. It’s just the way it goes for players on rookie deals, collectively bargained by players and owners in the CBA. When the 2025 season rolls around, Jefferson will be rich beyond belief.
CBS Sports flagged Jefferson as one of the NFL’s “best bargains” this week in an article about high-value-low-cost players. Cody Benjamin nominated Jefferson as a best bargain by stating, “Just two years into his career, Jefferson is already one of the top receivers in football, so of course he’s a steal on his rookie deal. If guys like D.J. Moore and Mike Williams are cashing in for $20M per year, you can only imagine the Vikings’ electric play-maker will eventually command much closer to Tyreek Hill’s record-setting $30M annual figure.”
Other wideouts mentioned by Benjamin included Deebo Samuel and D.K. Metcalf, two men also on rookie deals.
Since entering the league in 2020, Jefferson has tallied more receiving yards (3,016) than any other player ever through a player’s first two seasons. He’s also the most targeted player through two seasons in NFL history. And his workload could spike inside an offense led by Kevin O’Connell. Jefferson’s theatrics through two seasons were conducted inside a run-first offense built by former coach Mike Zimmer.
The run-first label is now out of the way, possibly allowing Jefferson to bust out even further. Jefferson mentioned the end of “run-first” to the NFL Network‘s Patrick Claybon this week, “Our offensive style, it’s not a run-first offense anymore. Just us being able to put different people in different positions and distribute the ball. We’re just excited to start it up, really. We want to see how this season really turns out for us.”
If Jefferson keeps the same pace — or increases it with O’Connell in the saddle — his contract talks will dominate next offseason’s headlines. Young superstars are generally signed to extensions a couple of years before their next deal kicks in, and for Jefferson, those chats will probably start next spring.
His “bargain” status won’t last for long. Jefferson is expected to net $35 million per season by the time he’s eligible for a veteran contract.
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).