It’s the End of an Era for Adam Thielen

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
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After 10 seasons with the club, the Minnesota Vikings parted ways with Adam Thielen on Friday, a cap-clearing measure similar to Eric Kendrick’s release earlier this week.

The move was expected by many Vikings fans as Thielen’s scheduled cap hit in 2023 was $19.9 million, and that was evidently too rich for the blood of the team’s front office. The release saves Minnesota about $6.4 million in cap funds and inflicts a $13.5 million dead cap hit.

It’s the End of an Era for Adam Thielen

NFL Network‘s Tom Pelissero tweeted Friday, “The Vikings are releasing two-time Pro Bowl WR Adam Thielen today, per sources. A onetime undrafted free agent from Minnesota State who went on to catch 55 touchdown passes for his hometown team, Thielen has plenty left in the tank at age 32 and wants to land with a contender.”

End of an Era for Adam
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Thielen’s story is everywhere and well-documented, but the Detroit Lakes native rose to power late in the 2015 season and clapperclawed his way up Minnesota’s depth chart to WR1 by 2016. Thielen jelled instantly with then-QB1 Sam Bradford and took off as a household name in Minnesota and later the nation.

An undrafted free agent in 2013, Thielen was “supposed to be” just a special teams contributor, but he used the following three seasons to actionize other plans. He tallied 967 receiving yards in 2016 — while starting 10 games — and truly blossomed as the real deal in 2017, with 91 receptions for 1,276 yards and 4 touchdowns. Thielen and storybook passer Case Keenum created folkloric chemistry, and Minnesota damn near won a Super Bowl in a season riddled by injuries — that it had no business even making the playoffs.

1 Vikings Theory Is All
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Soon after, in 2018, Thielen became not just a good wide receiver but a deadly one, with the arrival of Kirk Cousins as a free agent. Thielen fired up 113 catches for 1,373 yards and 9 touchdowns with Cousins in the purple saddle for the first time.

Then, something interesting occurred. Never a prolific scorer of touchdowns, Thielen’s skillset shifted, reducing the receiving yards — in large part due to a few injuries — while becoming a touchdown magnet. In his final three seasons with the Vikings, from 2020 to 2022, Thielen ranked fifth leaguewide in touchdown receptions, only trailing monsters-of-rock players Davante Adams, Mike Evans, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill. Teammate Kyle Rudolph was the go-to commodity in the redzone, but after he left for the New York Giants in 2021, Thielen seized the defacto job.

Team in Football per
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All told, Thielen departs the Vikings as the club’s third-leading receiver in catches (534), third in receiving touchdowns (55), and fourth in receiving yards (6,682). He’s emphatically “right up there” with Cris Carter and Randy Moss on the leaderboards and Vikings lore.

The Minnesota State alumnus expressed his desire to remain a Vikings in 2023 on ESPN’s First Take right before the Super Bowl, “I want to retire a Viking. Will that happen? I don’t know. This is also a business. And I also want my opportunity to show that I can play at a high level. So, we’ll see what happens.”

And that “see what happens” apparently couldn’t be solved in a manner pleasing Thielen and Minnesota’s brass. Now, Thielen will enter open free agency for the first time and likely command attention from several teams. He reiterated a few times since the end of the 2022 season that he still has plenty left in the tank.

We're One Month Away from Purple Showtime
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As for the Vikings next steps in replacing the 32-year-old, a few options are available. Minnesota can scour free agency for a D.J. Chark, Odell Beckham, JuJu Smith-Schuster, or Allen Lazard type to run opposite Justin Jefferson in September. The NFL draft is seven weeks away, and some believe general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah should use early-round draft capital on the next WR2. Otherwise, the Vikings can promote from within, exploring the WR2 candidacies of K.J. Osborn or Jalen Nailor.

Thielen played more games for the Vikings than Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson, Anthony Carter, Jake Reed, and Tommy Kramer, among hundreds of others.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

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