After posting numbers that made him one of the NFL’s most productive wide receivers the past two seasons, Adam Thielen is about to become one of the league’s richest.
The wide receiver agreed with the Vikings on a four-year contract extension worth at least $64 million, his agency announced on Friday. Thielen’s new deal, which could be worth up to $73 million, keeps the wide receiver under contract through the 2024 season while resolving questions about his immediate future before the Vikings begin offseason workouts on Monday.
The Vikings signed Thielen to a four-year extension in March 2017, after he caught 69 passes for 967 yards while heading into restricted free agency. Thielen quickly outplayed the four-year deal, however, boosting its value by $4.1 million in its first two years by triggering incentives and base salary escalators after a pair of Pro Bowl seasons in which he posted numbers not achieved by a Vikings receiver since Randy Moss. He finished fourth in the NFL with 113 catches last season, posting 1,373 yards and tying Charlie Hennigan’s NFL record by starting the season with eight consecutive 100-yard games.
The Detroit Lakes native’s unlikely rise to stardom — by way of a $500 scholarship to Minnesota State Mankato and a rookie camp tryout with the Vikings — has become a well-worn tale by now, making Thielen, 28, perhaps the state’s most popular athlete in the process.
Though Thielen’s previous deal — which made him the NFL’s 30th-highest-paid receiver, in terms of average annual value — ran through the 2020 season, it had become obvious the receiver was due for a raise. The Vikings delivered, and he now is tied with Kansas City’s Sammy Watkins with the sixth-highest average value in the NFL among receivers. Thielen’s new deal is also expected to lower his salary cap figure (which had been $8.1 million) for the 2019 season.
Minnesota had roughly $2 million in cap space on Friday, meaning the team likely didn’t have enough cap room to sign its upcoming draft class. Though the Vikings might have to pursue additional moves to clear cap space before they sign draft picks, Thielen’s deal should help them create some of the that room.
The wide receiver’s deal was met with congratulations from his Vikings teammates on social media, including Stefon Diggs (who received a five-year, $72 million deal in July). The wide receiver tweeted, “Hard work and perseverance … happy for you and your family. Love brother,” after Thielen’s deal was announced.
Like Diggs, Thielen can earn up to an extra $9 million through incentives and base salary escalators based on the number of catches and yards he posts in a season.
Thielen’s journey with the Vikings began in famously improbable fashion; he’d put up impressive numbers at Minnesota State but seemed enough of a long shot that not even Aaron Keen — his offensive coordinator turned head coach — thought Thielen stood much of a chance to play in the NFL.
After paying his own way to a regional combine, where he ran a 4.45-second 40-yard dash, he did enough in his 2013 rookie camp tryout to dispatch undrafted free agent Nicholas Edwards from the roster. His first NFL touchdown came on a blocked punt return at TCF Bank Stadium in 2014, and it wasn’t until a month into the 2016 season that Thielen became a full-time starter.
Since the start of that season, Thielen is tied for third in the NFL with 82 third-down receptions, and tied for seventh in both catches and receiving yards.