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MINNEAPOLIS — What do Minnesota Viking kickers and receivers have in common? They will never escape the team’s haunted past.

In the same way that Greg Joseph has to answer questions about the ghosts of Gary Anderson and Blair Walsh every time he misses a clutch kick, Justin Jefferson is haunted by Stefon Diggs’ infamous “Truth To All Rumors” press conference and the subsequent tweets that inspired the Buffalo Bills to trade for him.

So when Jefferson said following a 30-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams that his team needed to be more “aggressive” once they get to the red zone — clearly referring to the time they passed their way to scoring position only to hand off to Alexander Mattison twice in a row — it rung some old, painful bells for Vikings fans.

Had Diggs not been absolutely correct in his reasoning for wanting out, it wouldn’t strike as many familiar chords. But he George Costanza’d his way out of Minnesota because the Vikings refused to center the offense around the passing game and then went to Buffalo and caught 216 passes for 2,627 yards over the last two years en route to his team winning 22 of 31 games. On Sunday, Diggs was MF’ing the New England Patriots crowd while the Vikings were settling for field goals.

These things are tied together, no doubt. It’s an elite receiver with the same coach, same offensive system, same quarterback and a similar complaint. But just because your new girlfriend has red hair and hates jazz music doesn’t mean she’s just like your last girlfriend who had red hair and hated jazz music.

Jefferson is in a much different spot in his career than Diggs was in 2019 when things bubbled over and he skipped practice following a loss to the Bears. Jefferson’s team is in a very different situation. The new Vikings superstar receiver, who coincidentally broke Odell Beckham Jr.’s record for most receiving yards in two seasons to start a career, is on his rookie contract. That means having very little leverage to force a trade, even if he wanted to do so and the Vikings wouldn’t do it for anything less than Patrick Mahomes in return.

Jefferson is also only in Year 2 of his career, not Year 5. The 2019 season felt like the Vikings’ last chance to reach a Super Bowl with the group that had taken them to the NFC Championship game in 2017. There was a deep connection with many of those players who had returned on cheaper contracts i.e. Diggs/Barr/Hunter to make a push with their brothers. There was desperation in ‘19 to fulfill their potential and a Last Dance feeling that many of the players wouldn’t be there after that season.

Jefferson has only seen a team that can be a July fireworks show sometimes on offense and then go quieter than a 20-below Minnesota winter’s night. He’s never played a single down with his team above .500.

There’s hope in Jefferson’s situation and reason for him to believe that they can get to the next level in the future. Diggs was smart enough to see that there wasn’t bright skies ahead for the Vikings.

Head coach Mike Zimmer seemed to get the Diggs vibes to questions about Jefferson’s postgame comments and tried to cut them off at the pass on Monday.

“I think Justin was just frustrated,” Zimmer said. “Hey, we’re all frustrated. When we don’t win a game, we all get frustrated, we all say things 10 minutes after the game we wish we wouldn’t have. But, you know, every time I’ve talked to him when he’s been frustrated, he’s said, ‘I got you, Coach. We’re good. And let’s go.’ In my opinion, he just wants to win. Part of that is he wants to get the ball if he can. I don’t think he’s calling out anybody, that’s not the type of person that he is. He’s a guy that wants to go out and play, and play his best every single week.”

Translation: Don’t go calling him Diggs.

That’s fair considering Jefferson muttered a single line of irritation at his 7-8 club’s failures in the red zone, where they have largely been good all year. He didn’t skip practice. He didn’t tweet cryptically or have any blowups in training camp, as Diggs did leading up to the 2019 season.

He simply let his feelings of frustration show in a tough moment for the entire team. But let’s not pretend like those feelings aren’t a big deal.

Minnesota sports fans have watched as disgruntled stars have tried with every ounce of their souls to win in the Twin Cities and the teams around them never did enough. Kevin Garnett, Joe Mauer and Randy Moss will forever be known as generational stars that were only able to take their teams so far. Karl-Anthony Towns doesn’t live in their air but he’s in the ballpark of another Minnesota athlete whose prime is being spent watching his team fumble around to figure out how to get him to consistent contention.

Future Hall of Famer Patrick Peterson, who suffered through 8-8 and 5-11 years in Arizona to start his career, gave his advice on Monday to Jefferson about how to handle rough times as an up-and-coming superstar.

“I tell guys all the time, ‘Super Bowl rings, that’s a team – that’s a collective achievement,” Peterson said. “'If you want to be recognized as one of the greats, you control your career. You control your outcome of your career. The greatest place to be at the end of your career is in Canton. So just continue sticking to the process, continue sticking to the grind, continue doing what you know, what’s helping you be successful – and all the other stuff’s going to come with it.”

Summarized: There’s only so much you can do.

And while Jefferson is already one of the biggest stars in the NFL, he hasn’t given off much of a Big Star vibe. There have been zero teammates thrown under the bus, including his quarterback who has posted five of his worst six PFF passing grades of the season in the last six weeks. Jefferson even won the Korey Stringer award for being most accommodating to media and held up his certificate with a proud smile.

But you can bet every Moss jersey you own that he isn’t happy living under .500. Jefferson won the national championship at LSU. LeBron James tweets about him. Odell Beckham has a close friend and mentor. Heck, he wore a “Free Odell” shirt after Beckham became disenchanted with the Browns.

Jefferson has also grown up in an era where players of his caliber control their destinies. Diggs, Beckham, Julio Jones, Aaron Rodgers, LeBron, Durant, Kyrie. How about every college athlete who isn’t thrilled by their amateur athlete experience entering the transfer portal?

It may not be a situation where Jefferson starts burning Alan Page jerseys on Instagram and wearing Cheesehead hats in public to force a trade but the clock has started ticking. The Vikings have received two of the greatest receiving seasons in their incredible history of wide receivers and presently sit with an 11% chance of making the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight. In no world is a dude who’s getting tweets from LeBron going to be cool with that much longer.

The Vikings refused to consider Diggs’ feelings and lost him. They can’t do the same with Jefferson. In his two years, he’s seen an organization stuck on repeat, consistently taking one step forward and one step back, fading in the moments where he wants to shine the most, like on Sunday against the Rams. He’s been locked into being close to the playoffs yet so far away from competing for a title. You could say Jefferson probably feels like you do, Vikings fans.

Again it speaks to the core difference, where Diggs felt like they were letting the final shot with the 2017 group go to waste, Jefferson hasn’t seen his team succeed at all.

That’s why all considerations for the future should be with Jefferson in mind. He isn’t a cog in the machine, he’s a nearly unstoppable force that can drive the offense for a decade — if he’s here for a decade. When Cousins has targeted Jefferson over the last two years, he’s produced a 114.9 QB rating.

So if it’s best for Jefferson to find an offensive-minded coach who will treat him the way the Bills have with Diggs, find that coach. If it’s best for Jefferson to trade Kirk Cousins for a better playmaking quarterback (with more “swagger,” as he described Joe Burrow), then find that quarterback in the draft and spend the rest of the cap space on linemen to give that quarterback time to throw the ball to Jefferson. If he needs players around him to bring more energy, as he suggested postgame, buy a vending machine with Red Bull.

On Sunday afternoon, Jefferson wasn’t demanding a trade, calling for people’s jobs or being a diva. He was, however, using a voice that will only grow with confidence, success and stardom. These days, if teams don’t take those voices from players very seriously, they’ll end up watching their players on championship weekend playing for somebody else, as the Vikings did last year with Diggs. 


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