Minnesota Vikings release WR Adam Thielen

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(ABC 6 News) – The Minnesota Vikings are parting with some longtime team leaders this offseason as the team navigates a tight salary cap situation.

Just a few days after Minnesota released linebacker Eric Kendricks, the Vikings have done the same with Minnesota native and homegrown star wide receiver Adam Thielen.

Thielen, who will turn 33 before the next season starts, was set to count nearly $20 million against the salary cap this year, according to Spotrac. By releasing him, the team clears up more than $6.5 million in cap space.

Thielen ranks third in team history in receptions (534) and receiving touchdowns (55) and fourth in receiving yards (6,682).

Those numbers, along with his humble career origin story, elevated Thielen to folk hero status around the state, resonating from Lake Superior’s North Shore to Southwest Minnesota and his Detroit Lakes hometown in Northwest Minnesota down to Bluff Country by the Mississippi River.

The legacy added another chapter in 2022 when Thielen was named Vikings Community Man of the Year for his work through Thielen Foundation, which he launched in 2018.

“Adam’s story is one many know and admire and an incredible example of what a relentless pursuit of a goal can ultimately accomplish. For over a decade, Adam honed his craft to become one of the most well-recognized wide receivers in the NFL. Over that same time, he poured so much of his time into his home state, which made it even more special for him to earn our 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year nomination. 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. I appreciate Adam’s contributions and will be pulling for continued success for him, Caitlin and their children.”

– Vikings Head Coach Kevin O’Connell

Thielen first entered the NFL when he was signed after participating in Minnesota’s 2013 rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. After working primarily on special teams and as a blocker from 2014-15 (20 catches, 281 yards and one touchdown on 31 targets), Thielen broke through in 2016 with 69 catches for 967 yards and five scores.

He started every game in each of the next two seasons and continued to produce even though the Vikings offense underwent multiple changes to its offensive coordinator and endured a bevy of quarterback injuries from 2014-17.

Thielen posted his career bests of 113 receptions and 1,373 yards in 2018, his first season with Kirk Cousins at QB. He became the first player in NFL history to open a season with eight consecutive 100-yard games. The nine touchdowns caught by Thielen that season were topped with a personal-best 14 in 2020 — the fifth-highest total by a Viking in one season all-time.

The former Minnesota State Maverick followed with 67 receptions for 726 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 13 games in 2021.

In the first season under Kevin O’Connell, Thielen caught 70 passes for 716 yards and six scores, becoming just the fourth undrafted player in NFL history with at least 50 touchdown catches.

Thielen started 101 of the 135 regular-season games he played for the Vikings and eclipsed 100 receiving yards in 21 different games (ranks fifth in team history), including a personal best 202 on 12 catches at Green Bay (Dec. 24, 2016) the day after he and the team were stranded on the runway for hours. He built off that breakout moment to show it wasn’t a fluke. Thielen made the Pro Bowl for his 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Off the field, he’s been gracious with fans at every turn and found ways to use his platform for good.

Thielen Foundation has donated more than $2.5 million to community organizations, including a pledge last fall of $1 million to be shared among eight Minnesota nonprofit organizations. The organizations align with Thielen Foundation’s goals of helping others reach their full potential.

“Adam’s tremendous impact goes well beyond the Vikings organization. His rise from a tryout player to one of the best players in the history of our franchise has encouraged so many young athletes and is a testament to hard work and perseverance. While Adam had a competitive fire on the field, he showed grace, compassion and humility within his community. The commitment he and his wife, Caitlin, have shown to Minnesota through the Thielen Foundation has and will continue to provide real change. Adam’s energetic, contagious personality will be missed inside the facility, but we are grateful for the foundation he built. He was a Minnesota Viking long before we signed him, and he will be always considered a part of this team. We sincerely wish Adam, Caitlin and their entire family continued success.”

– Vikings Owners Mark Wilf and Zygi Wilf 

His departure leaves big shoes to fill in the offense as Jefferson continues to garner more attention from defenses.

Minnesota still faces several other difficult decisions on veterans like safety Harrison Smith, fullback C.J. Ham, edge Za’Darius Smith and, of course, Kirk Cousins, who is entering the final year of his contract.