It's a new year and a mostly new Vikings coaching staff, but the same system of fines for receivers coach Keenan McCardell, the former Pro Bowl receiver for the Jaguars and Buccaneers who was only one of three assistants retained under rookie head coach Kevin O'Connell.
McCardell's wallet gets a little lighter whenever he displays a highlight of one of his 938 career receptions, including 55 in the playoffs, to Vikings receivers.
"Even though I have to show some of them, they'll say, 'Ope, fine. Put it on the board,'" said McCardell, 52, after Tuesday's practice that opened the team's mandatory minicamp. "They couldn't believe some of the moves that I had. I say, 'Well, y'all still got a lot of catches to catch to catch me, right?' I said, 'I believe in one [team], I had more catches than all you guys.' The closest person would be Adam [Thielen] right now, and JJ's [Justin Jefferson] catching up fast."
McCardell's memory serves him right, as his 499 catches in six Jaguars seasons still rank above Thielen's 464 grabs for the Vikings. But this offseason, the younger receivers gave the old guy a boost. Thielen and Jefferson publicly voiced their support for McCardell, urging O'Connell to retain him after McCardell was initially hired by Mike Zimmer before the 2021 season.
In one season, McCardell formed a tight bond with Jefferson and Vikings receivers that "was definitely a reason" to make the hire, O'Connell said. O'Connell also kept assistant defensive backs coach Roy Anderson and assistant linebackers coach Sam Siefkes from Zimmer's staff.
"It meant a lot to me," McCardell said. "I called them all and said, 'You guys didn't have to do that.' I think my résumé would've spoken for itself and if it didn't, it's part of the process because I know in this coaching business, I've got to do my job and then hopefully other people see it. But I appreciate all those guys going to bat for me. It shows what kind of room we have."
The decision wasn't a light one for O'Connell, previously the Rams' offensive coordinator. McCardell oversees a position expected to spearhead the new offense, even as the Vikings might be more diversified than the receiver-heavy Rams with fullback C.J. Ham and tight ends Irv Smith Jr. and Johnny Mundt.
Receiver K.J. Osborn said the new playbook is more complex, but will make the Vikings less predictable through many presnap adjustments for receivers built within play calls. Coordinator Wes Phillips described receivers having more on their plates than standard offenses. They say McCardell has caught onto this playbook, too.
"We got a great connection with him," Osborn said. "I think that comes from him being a player himself. He's been in almost every seat in the room himself, having a long career, and being in a bunch of offenses, he can relate to us."
McCardell's relationship with Jefferson, the third-year star whose 3,016 receiving yards are an NFL record in a player's first two seasons, might be the team's most important. Before McCardell was hired by O'Connell, Jefferson posted on social media that McCardell "must stay!!"
"When you got a great player like that, you try to keep it simple," McCardell said. "Let his talent do the work. You help him with things he may have not seen before, and I may have seen in my career. I've probably seen every look that he's seen, but I try to help him through it. Once he gets it, he gets it so fast, and he knows how to capitalize."
McCardell was eight seasons and one Pro Bowl into his esteemed NFL career before Jefferson, who turns 23 this month, was even born in 1999.
Their playing days took drastically different routes. McCardell was a 12th-round pick in 1991 by Washington and waited five seasons before he was a consistent target. Jefferson, the 2020 first-round pick, was headed for stardom by his third NFL game when he put up 175 yards in a 31-30 loss to the Titans.
But McCardell, who played 17 seasons, knows a thing or two about staying power, even if teaching about it costs him when replaying one of his many highlight-reel grabs.
"I try not to show them," McCardell said. "I try to show them all the other guys, and then somebody will say, 'Coach, where's your highlights?' They just be egging me on just to get me fined. But it's fun. I have fun with those guys all the time. I haven't shown them the three-point stance. I've got a couple old-school, [ex-49ers receiver] John Taylor three-point stances that I'm going to show them here in camp and make 'em laugh. I'm going to be like, 'This is how receivers used to have to get off the ball.'"