Thursday, July 25, 2024

Vikings’ Justin Jefferson addresses Kirk Cousins leaving, expectations for J.J. McCarthy and Sam Darnold

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The Minnesota Vikings made 2022 NFL Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history this offseason when they signed him to a four-year, $140 million extension. 

Thanks to his partnership with four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins, Jefferson is averaging 98.3 receiving yards per game in his career, the most in NFL history. Jefferson’s 5,899 career receiving yards are also the most in NFL history through a player’s first four seasons. However, he is going to have to adjust to life without Cousins after the soon-to-be 36-year-old departed in free agency for the Atlanta Falcons on a four-year, $180 million contract.

Cousins’ move down south didn’t fully surprise the Vikings’ top target. 

“Yeah and no,” Jefferson said on “The Rich Eisen Show” on Tuesday when asked if he was surprised when his quarterback left. “I always knew Kirk was going to do whatever he needs to do for his business-wise. I just knew that everything wasn’t the way he wanted it to be here. Especially just with having to pay me and having to pay so many other different guys, I feel like he just wanted a new start. A new opportunity to start with Atlanta and a clean slate. I’m not mad at him at all for that. I’m grateful for what he has brought to me, and the things that we have accomplished together, but at the end of the day it’s a business. You have to do what you have to do for yourself and your family. I clearly understand that. It’s on to the next. It doesn’t really matter what quarterback it is in my eyes, I’m always going to make the best of the opportunity. Always going to try to be the quarterback’s friend and make his job a lot easier. It doesn’t matter if it’s Kirk or if it’s Sam [Darnold] or it’s J.J. [McCarthy]. I’m going to make it as easy as possible for them.”  

Minnesota head coach Kevin O’Connell indicated that Darnold will enter training camp with the early edge in the Vikings’ quarterback competition, citing the 27-year-old’s six years of NFL experience as a critical factor. McCarthy, the 10th overall pick of the 2024 NFL Draft out of Michigan, appears to be set to start his career on the bench learning behind the veteran whom Jefferson believes to be an excellent communicator. 

“I feel like Sam is doing a great job with just communicating and just connecting with the players,” Jefferson said. “He understands that he’s the new guy, and we have to bond with him. We have to create that connection and chemistry with him. He’s an older guy, it’s not like he’s new to the league. He knows how to socialize, how to talk and communicate with us. Not only just about football, but just talking about different things. Just like how me and Kirk [Cousins] used to do. To have Sam in there, more of a veteran, older mindset, and to have J.J. [McCarthy] come in and learn from him as well is definitely something that we needed. I think it’ll be great for J.J. as well.”

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