Kevin O'Connell: Justin Jefferson 'in loop' on Vikings' QB plans

March 25, 2024, 2:59 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. -- As they navigate a franchise-altering quarterback transition, the Minnesota Vikings have been careful to keep the most important player on their roster fully informed.

Speaking Monday at the NFL's annual meeting, Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said he has had regular check-ins with star wide receiver Justin Jefferson this offseason and found him "excited" about the potential of contributing to the mentorship of a young quarterback. More importantly, O'Connell said he does not believe that Jefferson needs to know the outcome of the team's plans before signing a contract extension that the sides have been negotiating for more than a year.

"Needing to know and being a part of a collaborative process, which Justin is, are two different things," O'Connell said. "I've felt very strongly about keeping him informed. He's been in the loop. He's been aware. He's allowed to articulate things to me via our relationship, and that's really been through this whole process."

Jefferson had a strong relationship with former quarterback Kirk Cousins. He said during the season that Cousins' return in 2024 would be "perfect," but stopped short of insisting on it. Cousins signed a four-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons that included far more fully guaranteed money than the Vikings' offer, and the Vikings responded by signing veteran Sam Darnold and turning their attention to the 2024 draft.

Jefferson hasn't spoken publicly about Cousins' departure, but O'Connell said there has been constant communication behind the scenes about the team's plans.

"Look, the things that Kirk and Justin were able to do over these last couple years, that's what I can speak to," O'Connell said. "Having been here with those guys when they've played together, they've done a lot of really special things and that's not lost on me and that's not lost on Justin. But Justin ... did step into a leadership role last year. He became a first-time captain. I think he's excited about that, what that means for him moving forward, really being a pillar of leadership in our organization and that's how I treat him.

"That's how our conversations and our communication go and I think the quarterback position, the path that we're going to go, I think he's excited about getting to spend some time and work with Sam in addition to our other quarterbacks and then what this could look like to maybe be a part of helping mentor a young quarterback.

"I think it's a pretty special time and I know Justin's looking at it like that as well, and my hope is we get his contract done and taken care of and he continues to be that pillar, that pillar of leadership that I look at him as within our team."

Earlier this month, the Vikings acquired the No. 23 overall pick from the Houston Texans to give themselves options as they consider a potential trade up from their original spot at No. 11 overall. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has said "there's a preferred scenario" for how next month's draft will play out, but O'Connell joined him Monday in noting that the team can't simply will itself to move up.

"There's a lot that goes into that," O'Connell said. "We need another team to be complicit in that action to go get one of those guys, if that ends up being the plan. But I am excited to kind of see this process through and see if we can potentially add our quarterback in the future to that room."

To that end, O'Connell said he has spent significant time structuring his coaching staff for the possibility of working with Darnold while also developing a rookie quarterback. O'Connell will transfer some of his weekly responsibilities to offensive coordinator Wes Phillips so that he can spend more time with quarterbacks alongside new position coach Josh McCown.

O'Connell will continue to call plays on game day.

"I want to be an extension of the quarterback development in our building," O'Connell said. "I want to play a major role and a factor in that because it's something that I love more than anything, and being in a position to have an impact on that position is something that means a lot to me."