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Bleacher Report – Vikings

What might have been: Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery decided to pass on Vikings’ offer

By Judd Zulgad

Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen have turned into a tremendous one-two punch at wide receiver for the Vikings. Thielen led the Vikings this season with 91 receptions for 1,276 yards and four touchdowns, while Diggs had 64 catches for 849 yards and eight touchdowns.

But if the Vikings had gotten their way last March, one or both receivers’ statistics wouldn’t be nearly as impressive. That’s because the Vikings made an aggressive multiyear bid for Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery in free agency.

Jeffery turned down the Vikings to sign a one-year, $14 million contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Vikings might have been frustrated, or perplexed, by the decision at the time but it has worked out for both sides. Diggs and Thielen continued to be a very productive duo and Jeffery finished third on the Eagles with 57 receptions for 789 yards and a team-leading nine touchdowns.

Jeffery will be a main focus of the Vikings defense on Sunday when the Eagles play host to Minnesota in the NFC title game. Philadelphia will have its hands full trying to stop Diggs, whose touchdown reception gave the Vikings their improbable victory over the Saints last Sunday in an NFC Divisional playoff game, but Thielen is listed as questionable for this weekend’s game because of a back injury.

So why did Jeffery say no to the Vikings?

He had 52 receptions for 821 yards (yes, his yardage total in 2016 was higher than 2017) and a disappointing two touchdowns in 12 games in his final season with Chicago. Jeffery’s reception total was his lowest since he caught 24 passes in 10 games as a rookie and his touchdown total was a career-low, coming two seasons after he had caught 10 scoring passes.

Jeffery, who will turn 28 on Feb. 14, decided to gamble on a bounce back season and take a one-year contract with the hope of then cashing in after a year with Carson Wentz at quarterback. It didn’t even take a full season for the Eagles to decide they wanted Jeffery around for the long term.

Jeffery had 43 receptions for 619 yards and seven touchdowns in early December when the Eagles signed him to a four-year, $52 million contract extension through 2012. The deal reportedly includes $27 million in guarantees.

Shortly after Jeffery signed, Wentz suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in Week 14. That ended Wentz’s season and has left Jeffery catching passes from Nick Foles the past four games.

Jeffery caught four passes for 49 yards and a touchdown in Philadelphia’s 34-29 victory over the New York Giants in Foles’ first game as the starter. He was shut out the following week against Oakland — Jeffery was targeted only twice — and had one catch for 8 yards in limited duty in the regular-season finale against Dallas.

In the Eagles’ 15-10 victory over Atlanta last Saturday in the NFC Divisional playoffs, Jeffery caught four passes for 61 yards from Foles, including a long of 21.

Philadelphia’s top two wide receivers are Jeffery and Nelson Agholor (62 catches, 768 yards and eight touchdowns). Tight end Zach Ertz led the team in receiving this season (74 catches, 824 yards, eight touchdowns).

It wouldn’t be surprising if the 6-foot-3, 218-pound Jeffery finds Vikings standout cornerback Xavier Rhodes on him for much of the game Sunday.

Minnesota is familiar with the type of problems Jeffery can present a defense. Jeffery caught 45 passes for 685 yards and seven touchdowns in nine games against the Vikings during his time with the Bears. That’s his highest output in all three categories against any opponent.

“Yeah, I’ve gone back and looked at that match-up (between Jeffery and Rhodes) in particular just to see the battle that went on and the types of things that Alshon did against him,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson told this week. “And the coverage technique that he used. Does it apply to this game? Maybe a little. I think Alshon’s a better player. I think (Rhodes) is a much better player. Obviously, he’s playing with a lot of confidence. It’s going to be another great match-up again Sunday evening.”

You can’t blame the Vikings for having thought Jeffery would look good in purple, but his decision to head to Philly caused the Vikings to act on locking up Thielen. Coming off a season in which the undrafted receiver had caught 69 passes for 967 yards and five touchdowns, Thielen was signed to a four-year, $19.2 million extension that includes $9.6 million in guarantees a few weeks after Jeffery’s decision.

Thielen finished eighth in the NFL in receptions, fifth in receiving yards, tied for fifth with 20 receptions of 20 or more yards and eighth with 59 first-down receptions.

Ultimately, the Vikings had to be pleased Jeffery decided to head elsewhere, and most importantly, out of the division. Jeffery, of course, will be hoping to provide a reminder to the Vikings’ top-rated defense on Sunday about just how big of pain he can be.

The post What might have been: Eagles’ Alshon Jeffery decided to pass on Vikings’ offer appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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