MINNEAPOLIS — Justin Jefferson didn't sound stressed at all by the fact he and the Minnesota Vikings failed to agree on a contract extension before the regular season began, likely tabling negotiations until next spring.
The business side will work itself out, particularly with 1½ years remaining on his rookie deal. The pressing issue at hand for Jefferson is helping the Vikings recover quickly from this frustrating mistake-filled start to the season.
Despite 150 yards on nine receptions by Jefferson, the Vikings were done in by three first-half turnovers in a 20-17 opening loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.
“Fix those minor errors, and I feel like the outcome of the game will be way better,” Jefferson said.
The NFL ’s reigning receiving leader, who had by far the most yards of any player in history through his first three seasons, was more than happy to fully participate in training camp unlike some of his contract-seeking peers around the league. He also made clear his camp has been driving a hard bargain for what is likely to be the richest deal for a player at his position.
“I’ve done something that no one has ever done in the history of the game, so my situation is a little bit different than everyone else’s,” Jefferson said earlier this week. He insinuated the Vikings hadn't yet been willing to meet his asking price when he said a new deal would be “up to them.”
After adding another record to his list as the fastest player in NFL history to reach 25 career games with 100-plus yards receiving — he got there in 51 games to beat Lance Alworth (55) — Jefferson didn't hint at any ill will toward the front office or feeling of being slighted by the lack of an extension.
“I have the same mindset as I had before,” Jefferson said. “All I can do is play football, and that’s what I continue to do. I know my team. My team doesn’t care about the contract, and I don’t, either. I just want to be here for my teammates, play for my teammates, and of course get these wins.”
Though there was widespread optimism about a deal being struck before Sunday, teams usually don't engage in much contract talk during the season to keep key players from potential distraction. That means the next time the negotiation gets going Jefferson will be entering the final year on his deal.
“He knows I support him 100%, and he was all in today and really has been,” coach Kevin O'Connell said. “We would have loved to get something done with Justin, but the decision was made and I do not for one second believe that Justin is not going to put his best foot forward like he did today.”
More than half of Kirk Cousins’ 273 yards passing in the first half went Jefferson, but the Vikings had to settle for a 10-all tie despite three times as much yardage as the Buccaneers.
Cousins lost two fumbles, one on third-and-2 from the Tampa Bay 26 in the first quarter when right guard Ed Ingram knocked the ball out of his hand. The Vikings' next drive was ended on a strip-sack by Antoine Winfield Jr. that gave the Buccaneers the ball at the Minnesota 30 to set up a field goal. Then with 16 seconds left before halftime on second-and-1 from the 13, Cousins threw into a tight window for K.J. Osborn at the goal line and watched Christian Izien rip the ball out for an interception.
Eight possessions in the first half netted only 10 points for the Vikings, who play at defending NFC champion Philadelphia on Thursday night. They only had the ball three times in the second half, and their last two drives went three-and-out.
“Definitely not what we wanted, so we’ve got to look at the film, correct our mistakes and move on,” Jefferson said. “We’ve got a short week, so there’s not much time to really look back on it.”
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