Jarius Wright bided his time quietly in 2016. It wasn’t how he wanted his season to go and he certainly doesn’t want a repeat in 2017.
His receptions and targets, just like his playing time, was cut anywhere from one-third to one-fourth of what it was in each of the previous two seasons with the Minnesota Vikings. In 2016, Wright had only 119 snaps on offense, or about 11 percent of the total, and played in only half the games, despite not being out because of injury.
When he finally got a decent chance in the final game of the season with Stefon Diggs out with injury, Wright was targeted seven times – as many times as he was in his other seven games combined – and caught five passes, just one fewer than he had all season to that point.
It had to be a bit of vindication for a receiver that has shown he can produce from the slot position when given the chance.
“That’s kind of what it was all about. I don’t want to put it like that because it’s team first and I’m a team player, but at the same time, for me, to go out there and, like you say, this guy can still play,” Wright said after the season finale. “Not only show the Vikings, but just show everybody out there who doubted me or who didn’t believe in me.”
Wright isn’t scheduled to be a free agent when the NFL shopping spree opens in less than a month, but he carries a $3.16 million salary-cap charge that makes his place on the team precarious if they aren’t going to use him much. However, the Vikings would be on the salary-cap hook for more than half of that, $1.68 million, if they were to release him because when he signed a four-year extension in September 2015 he was expected to be a bigger part of the offense.
Somewhere along the line that changed. For one, the Vikings wanted to move Diggs around more to try to free him up, and in three-receiver sets the Vikings featured a much heavier dose of Cordarrelle Patterson than Wright. In addition, Adam Thielen, who can play multiple positions, was earning a bigger role, too.
It left Wright on the outside gazing longingly inward.
It begs the question if the veteran of five NFL seasons even wants to be part of the Vikings in 2017.
“It’s a great question. Of course I’ve always been here, I like being here. I like this team and the guys that we have around here,” Wright told Viking Update in January. “So, I would love to be back, but we all know it’s not my decision. Whatever happens, I’m prepared for whatever and just roll with the punches.”
The Vikings made one significant salary-cap cut last Friday in releasing guard Brandon Fusco, but Wright wasn’t part of that. Perhaps they see a bigger role for him as Pat Shurmur takes over the full-time offensive coordinator duties or perhaps they attempt to trade him before the season.
Whatever the case, Wright got about one-third of his playing time for the season in the regular-season finale and proved he still has value.
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“You know, it felt really good. Like I always say, for me to get out and really come out with my receiving corps and just get a chance to play, they’ve done a great job all year long and I’ve had an opportunity to watch them most of the time, but it was fun to just get out there. They had fun and we just all had fun making plays today,” he said.
He also said he doesn’t worry about the offseason decision that is largely out of his hands. If the Vikings decide to move on from him, he said he was ready to accept that decision.
But, just like his most definitive statement with his play on the field, his most definitive statement on his outlook was saved for last, as well, when asked if he would request a trade.
“I don’t want to be like that about it, but I can’t go through a season like I went through this year. That’s just the honest truth,” he said. “Just a little bit too late in my career, I feel, for me to be riding the bench when I feel like I can play.”