Even in a sobering, mistake-filled, awful-start-to-the-season loss, an inescapable truth hovered over the Vikings organization with a loud reminder that something critically important remains unsettled.
The price tag for Justin Jefferson is not going down.
The team's ownership and management can shelve contract talks with Jefferson's camp until the offseason, but the cost of keeping their superstar in Minnesota will only increase during this pause.
The contract impasse with the franchise's most popular and important player created an awkward story line as the Vikings kicked off a new season Sunday with a 20-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Jefferson had his usual brilliant performance with nine catches for 150 yards, most of his production coming in the first half. He was one of the lone bright spots on a day that landed with a thud.
That Jefferson made it to the opener without a new contract represented the first loss of the season.
Nothing on General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah's offseason agenda carried more importance than signing Jefferson to a long-term extension. Nobody has leaked what Jefferson's camp is seeking in compensation, but unless he's asking for stakes in the team and part ownership of Lake Minnetonka, there is only one suitable outcome.
Negotiations figured to be complicated because the assumption is that Jefferson's deal will be historic in nature, undoubtedly a record for wide receivers.
Jefferson is following a Hall of Fame trajectory on the field, and his popularity, not just here in Minnesota, but nationally, puts him in exclusive company inside the NFL's marketing and brand behemoth.
Walk into a Target store in Sacramento and there's a decent chance you'll see someone hitting the Griddy down the cereal aisle.
The Vikings aren't getting a hometown discount on this one.
Jefferson's price tag is going to be a whopper. So what? What are the Vikings going to do, not pay whatever it takes to keep him? There is only one correct answer.
Ideally, the team would have announced an extension at the start of training camp. That came and went.
Folks inside the organization expressed real optimism this past week that a deal would get done before Sunday's opener. That came and went too.
ESPN reported the sides tabled negotiations until after the season, which, if that happens, means Adofo-Mensah will have to tackle Jefferson's and quarterback Kirk Cousins' contract situations in the same time frame.
Cousins' situation brings more urgency because he will be a free agent, and making the right decision at that position is a legacy-defining transaction. Adofo-Mensah has more wiggle room in completing Jefferson's deal, but again, his value is not going down. And dragging the process out runs the risk of angering a transformative player.
Jefferson has handled the situation nothing but professionally. He attended mandatory workouts this spring. He showed up to training camp and participated in practices. He has not complained publicly. If anything, he's made a point to minimize the conversation around this topic.
"I'm moving on," he said in the locker room after Sunday's loss. "I'm ready to focus on the season."
Asked if stalled negotiations changes the way he feels about the team or wanting to stay in Minnesota, Jefferson replied, "Not really. I have the same mindset as I had before."
"At the end of the day, all I can do is play football," he said. "That's what I continue to do. I know my team doesn't care about the contract and I don't either. I just want to be here for my teammates, play for my teammates and, of course, get these wins."
Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell has noted previously that he maintains open communication with players dealing with contract matters, including Jefferson daily.
"He knows that I support him 100 percent," O'Connell said Sunday. "He was all-in today and really has been. We would have loved to get something done with Justin, but the decision was made. I do not for one second believe that Justin is not going to put his best foot forward like he did today, and really was pretty darn special today."
Jefferson is special every time he steps on the field. The Vikings will have to pay him accordingly no matter how long they wait.