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Jefferson: 'I'm not mad' at Cousins for leaving Vikings

David Berding / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Justin Jefferson understands why Kirk Cousins left the Minnesota Vikings in free agency this offseason and admits he wasn't completely surprised.

"Yeah and no," Jefferson said Tuesday on the "Rich Eisen Show" when asked about Cousins' departure. "I always knew Kirk was going to do whatever he needs to do for him 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," Jefferson added.

Cousins joined the Atlanta Falcons, signing a four-year, $180-million contract. Minnesota made two playoff appearances during his six seasons with the franchise, during which time he passed for 23,265 yards, 171 touchdowns, and 55 interceptions, with a 67.9% completion rate. The four-time Pro Bowler is expected to lead the Falcons while 2024 first-round pick Michael Penix Jr. sits behind him on the depth chart.

Minnesota has a couple options at quarterback entering next season. Sam Darnold is a veteran who finds himself on his third team in as many years following stints with the Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers. The Vikings also have rookie J.J. McCarthy, who they drafted with the 10th overall pick this past spring. He's set to make his pro debut after leading Michigan to a national championship in his final year at the school.

Head coach Kevin O'Connell indicated that Darnold will likely have the edge entering training camp based on his experience. Jefferson says the veteran made a favorable impression on the team by "communicating and just connecting with the players." The pair are quickly building a rapport that is similar to the QB-WR relationship Jefferson shared with Cousins.

"To have Sam in there, more of a veteran, older mindset, and to have J.J. 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," Jefferson said.

Jefferson's 5,899 receiving yards are the most in NFL history through a player's first four seasons. Minnesota rewarded him this offseason with a four-year, $140-million extension that made him the highest-paid non-quarterback in league history.

Jefferson believes that, regardless of who's under center, he'll remain a central figure in the Vikings' offense.

"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 or it's J.J. I'm going to make it as easy as possible for them," Jefferson said.

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