MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adam Thielen grew up in Minnesota as an avid fan of the Vikings, a sports-loving kid who desired to one day catch passes just like Cris Carter and Randy Moss.
His improbable and remarkable run with his home-state team ended with his name right behind them on the career receiving record lists.
The Vikings released Thielen on Friday for salary-cap relief, nearly 10 years after he latched on with them as an undrafted underdog.
Thielen was carrying the second-largest cap hit on the club behind quarterback Kirk Cousins. The move will stick the Vikings with more than $13.5 million in dead money for 2023, but they created $6.4 million in additional space by cutting him.
After playing at an NCAA Division II program on a $500 scholarship at Minnesota State, Thielen considered a career in dental equipment sales before taking part in one of the NFL’s regional scouting combines and landing a tryout invite with the Vikings at their post-draft rookie minicamp in 2013.
Thielen turned enough heads with his hustle, acceleration and agility to make the practice squad that year, before playing his way onto the active roster as a key special teams contributor in 2014 and 2015. He didn’t stop there, totaling 967 yards and five touchdowns in his first season as a starter in 2016 alongside Stefon Diggs at the top two wide receiver spots. The native of Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, had his best season in 2018 with 113 receptions for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns.
Slowed by a hamstring injury that limited him to 10 games in 2019, Thielen still ranked third in the NFL with 14 receiving touchdowns in 2020. The emergence of superstar Justin Jefferson that year began to reduce Thielen’s prominence in the offense, but his sure hands and route-running savvy still made him a valuable target for Cousins with 716 yards and six touchdowns.
“I personally leaned on Adam for his work ethic, leadership, and counsel multiple times to help get our team where we wanted it to be last season,” coach Kevin O’Connell said in a statement distributed by the Vikings.
The Vikings and Thielen’s camp discussed restructuring options for his nearly $20 million cap hit, but the 32-year-old desired a larger role while eyeing a free agent market that’s thin on wide receivers.
Thielen has 55 touchdowns in 135 games with the Vikings, the third most in franchise history behind Carter (110) and Moss (92). Thielen is also third in receptions behind Carter (1,004) and Moss (587).
He created a strong legacy off the field, too, with the foundation he and his wife, Caitlin, started in 2018 to foster youth development. They announced a $1 million donation last fall spread among eight different Twin Cities charitable organizations. Thielen was the Vikings’ nominee in 2022 for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award for community service.
“I have always felt a brotherly kinship with Adam from the day we met,” Cousins posted on Twitter. “So grateful I got to play with him. Lots of great football left up ahead in his career.”
The Vikings cleared an additional $2.7 million by waiving cornerback Cameron Dantzler, who became an instant starter as a third-round draft pick in 2020 but was limited by injuries in each of his three years. Duke Shelley overtook Dantzler in the starting lineup down the stretch last season.
The moves this week, including the release of linebacker Eric Kendricks on Monday, still left the Vikings more than $7 million over their salary cap, according to real-time data compiled by OverTheCap.com.
TOP PHOTO: FILE – Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) catches a 2-yard touchdown pass ahead of Dallas Cowboys cornerback Anthony Brown (30) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)