The uniqueness of the deal Adam Thielen signed on Monday — a four-year, $64 million extension completed with two years remaining on the wide receiver’s previous contract — owes plenty to the uniqueness of Thielen himself.
Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman all but admitted as much on Tuesday.
“I don’t know if there has ever been a success story like Adam Thielen,” Spielman said. “We were just talking; three weeks from this time of year, [after the draft in 2013], he was looking to try to get in to someone’s camp. … The minute he walked on to that field at Winter Park, you could tell this guy had a chance to be something.”
The Vikings could have waited another year to address Thielen’s contract, pointing to the fact he had locked himself into a four-year deal in 2017 rather than signing a one-year restricted free-agent tender and betting on himself. Thielen could have tried to back up two consecutive Pro Bowl seasons with another big year, in hopes of further raising his stock before his existing deal ran out.
In the end, the Vikings made a rare exception to their normal precedent, making Thielen one of the league’s highest-paid receivers despite the fact he was still two years from free agency. And Thielen took a deal that might have been bigger in a year, casting his lot with the team that first bet on him in 2013.
It’s an arrangement that might be unlikely to happen again. Then again, it might be a long time before Thielen’s career arc, or his value to the organization, is mimicked by another player.
“It’s awesome — just his whole story and to have been here the whole time to see how hard he worked to make the team, to get from practice squad, to playing special teams, to go from being a standout special teams player, to a good receiver and now one of the best receivers in the NFL,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “It’s been a lot of fun to see Adam grow over the years from where he started as a tryout guy in rookie minicamp to one of the best and highest-paid receivers in football.”
Thielen’s new deal, which came days before the start of the Vikings’ offseason program, headed off the possibility of drawn-out negotiations that might have lingered over the locker room as one of its leaders (and union representatives) tried to get a contract done. Instead, the Vikings began their workouts with Thielen — the former special teamer whom coach Mike Zimmer mentioned as a possible holder this winter — in the building, as his wife, Caitlin, and the couple’s two boys came to the team facility to watch him sign his contract Monday.
“Money is good and everything, but championships are what it’s about,” Thielen said. “Maybe [it’s] a little bit, too, of feeling appreciated more than the fact that they paid me this amount of money. But like I said, it’s all about winning, it’s all about giving back, and it’s all about being in a situation that you feel comfortable in. When you find a locker room like we have and you have guys like that, you don’t want to go somewhere else. You want to be here and you want to be here for a long time. That’s what my family and I are most excited about.”
The former rookie camp find is now one of the team’s highest-paid players. The novelty of Thielen’s story might be well established by now, but the novelty of Thielen himself might be what pushed his deal to completion.
“He’s a great example for all those kids out there who say dreams don’t come true,” Spielman said.
“You may not be the biggest or the fastest or the most recognized, but you can’t measure a person’s heart. What Adam Thielen brings to this football team is, not only is his natural ability, but a lot of heart.”