2-Time Vikings Pro Bowler on the Verge of ‘Fresh Start,’ Insider Says

Keenan McCardell

Getty Kevin O'Connell and Justin Jefferson

The Minnesota Vikings‘ release of veteran linebacker Eric Kendricks on Monday was a cruel reminder that nobody is safe when it comes to the business of the NFL.

Kendricks was just one of several veterans on pricey contracts who are on the chopping block. The Vikings started the offseason needing to clear over $24 million in cap space by the start of free agency on March 15. The move cleared $9.5 million off the books as Minnesota is inching closer to not only cap compliance, but becoming buyers in free agency.

But more moves need to be made, and one of the toughest involves Adam Thielen.

“Needing to rework Thielen’s $20 million cap hit for the 2023 season, the Vikings are in talks with the Minnesota native. However, “it wouldn’t surprise if talks resulted in a fresh start for Thielen,” ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler reported on March 5.

“His role in the offense could be an issue after Thielen averaged 6.4 targets per game, down from 7.3 in 2021,” Fowler added. “He believes he has more to offer than that, and Minnesota very well could enter the receiver market in free agency or via trade.”

Adam Thielen’s Wife Reveals Her Husband’s Late-Season Frustrations

Thielen’s wife expressed publicly on social media that he wants more opportunities and “to feel valued as a receiver so we’ll support him wherever that may be.” Thielen finished the 2022 season second in targets (107), receptions (70) and receiving yards (716).

However, his role was diminished once T.J. Hockenson arrived at the trade deadline.

After averaging seven targets per game through the first 13 games of the season, Thielen saw just 20 targets in the Vikings’ final five games, per Pro Football Reference. He caught three or fewer passes in that span, averaging 24.2 yards per game.

The new Vikings regime worked wonders with a roster that had underperformed for several seasons, turning in a 13-4 record and their first NFC North title since 2017. However, the writing may be on the wall that Minnesota wants to incorporate younger playmakers like Hockenson and K.J. Osborn.

Meanwhile, Thielen, turning 33 in August, is campaigning that he is still worth his salt on the field and the cap sheet. His nearly $20 million payday in 2023 is on par with that of Stefon Diggs, who is a perennial top-five producer at his position currently.

Thielen, on the other hand, isn’t producing like a player at that pay grade.

Thielen ranked 50th in receptions per game (4.1) and 60th in receiving yards per game (42.1). Thielen remains one of the league’s best red-zone weapons with the fifth-most receiving touchdowns (30) since 2020, however, he has faded from his once prominent role in the Vikings offense.

Over The Cap valued Thielen’s performance from 2022 to be worth a cap hit of $12.5 million. If the Vikings reworked Thielen’s contract to lower his cap number to that valuation, he would be the 28th highest-paid player at his position going into next season.

 A Restructure Won’t Work With Adam Thielen

While simply suggesting Thielen restructure his current contract to resolve his cap hit seems like the logical move to make, it’s also how he landed in this situation in the first place.

Thielen restructured his contract each of the past two offseasons, pushing his guaranteed earnings onto later years of his contract to create immediate cap space for the VIkings who have maintained a win-now mentality since 2018. That’s what has put him in this predicament with his $20 million cap hit at the age of 33.

A pay cut is likely the only route the Vikings would take to keep Thielen, who otherwise could hit veteran free agency for the first time in his career.

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