Justin Jefferson's new deal is another sign that receivers are the most valuable non-QBs

2WB4WMG Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) walks off the field before an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Detroit, Sunday, Jan. 7, 2024. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

• Justin Jefferson inks a four-year extension with the Vikings: The star wide receiver's $140 million deal contains $110 million in guarantees.

• The clear best non-quarterback in the NFL: In a receiver market that has been stacking bigger and bigger contracts recently, Jefferson’s deal resets the landscape and shows a firm indication the league now views receiver as the second-most important position in the game.

• Get a head start on fantasy football: Use PFF's fantasy football mock draft simulator to create real live mock draft simulations to get ready for your live draft!

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The Minnesota Vikings and Justin Jefferson finally agreed to a new contract extension, putting an end to months of speculation and trade rumors. Jefferson signed a four-year deal worth $140 million with $110 million in guarantees, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. It makes him not just the best-paid receiver in the NFL, but the best-paid receiver and highest-paid non-quarterback in league history.

In a receiver market that has been stacking bigger and bigger contracts recently, Jefferson’s deal resets the landscape and shows a firm indication the league now views receiver as the second-most important position in the game.

Jefferson is football's best receiver. He sat atop PFF’s wide receiver rankings released in May 2024 and eclipsed 1,000 yards and gained 2.91 yards per route run across only 10 games last season.

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He can win at all levels of the field, in all ways, and from any alignment. Last season, he spent 30.2% of his snaps from the slot, but one of the biggest questions on him as a prospect at draft time was whether he could win away from the slot. At LSU, he lined up primarily inside to make room for Ja’Marr Chase on the outside.

As the fifth receiver drafted in 2020, Jefferson has emerged as the best from that draft class, and the best in the game, and he deserves to be paid as such.

What is perhaps most interesting about this deal, though, is where it puts him overall in the NFL.

Quarterbacks are the most important players in football, and they will always dominate the top contracts, but there has always been a debate about when you would rather retain the best player or coach over the next-in-line at quarterback.

Jefferson is likely that player, and his new contract slots him in 16th in overall average per year terms. His new deal fits between Derek Carr and Baker Mayfield if he was a quarterback, or just between Carr and Nick Bosa in overall terms.

Coincidentally, that seems about the correct range for the earlier question. Every quarterback above Jefferson in terms of APY — except for the ill-advised Daniel Jones deal — is one you would likely choose before the first transcendent player at a different position because of how valuable quarterbacks are.

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Once you get into the middle-class tier of quarterbacks, the debate becomes more balanced. Is the surplus value of Baker Mayfield relative to his possible replacement worth more or less than the surplus value of Jefferson compared to another high-end receiver on less money? There may not be a truly “correct” answer to this question with the available information, but the market seems to be settling in the right area where the scales are most closely balanced.

The other interesting aspect is that the spate of recent contracts seems to be entrenching receiver as the most valuable non-quarterback position in the game, something that had not typically been the case in the past.

Analytics, and PFF WAR in particular, has suggested this for years. The most valuable players are quarterbacks, and the next most valuable are the quarterbacks’ favorite targets.

With the passing game king, all of the most valuable players are going to be connected to either passing the ball or stopping the pass, but receivers are the one position that can perhaps dictate their impact the most directly.

Pass-rushers can have a huge impact, but we have seen in recent years that if they don’t have enough help, their influence can be evaded. The ball can come out too quickly for them to make their presence felt.

Similarly, top cornerbacks can simply be avoided, or even exposed if the defensive front isn’t strong enough. Pat Surtain II may be the best cornerback in the game — Davante Adams thinks so — but he allowed a 93.9 passer rating and a catch on 62.9% of the passes thrown his way because Denver’s defensive front offered nothing for much of the year.

A top receiver can get open fast, or simply make enough plays in quick-game concepts that they can dominate even without much help beyond the quarterback.

It has logically made sense all along, but now the market seems to be adjusting to the data.

For the past several years there have been several places where it feels like the entire NFL as a whole is improving its process thanks to the explosion of analytics and smart people incorporating more and more information into every process a franchise is involved with. Jefferson’s contract may be just the latest example of that.

The NFL understands the value of truly transcendent players better than ever and the impact a top receiver can have, especially on a young quarterback trying to make his mark on the league.


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