Vikings release veteran receiver Adam Thielen after no agreement reached on a pay cut

The Detroit Lakes native who made the team as an undrafted free agent caught 55 touchdown passes in nine seasons

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen gives fans a thumbs-up Jan. 15, 2022, before the start of a NFL Wildcard Round game against the New York Giants at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Adam Thielen, the Detroit Lakes native who became a Vikings star receiver after making the team as an undrafted free agent, was released Friday after the two sides could not come to an agreement on a pay cut.

Thielen was on the books in 2023 for a base salary of $11.817 million and a salary-cap number of $19.967 million. The move will save the Vikings $6.417 million on the cap for 2023, and they will incur $13.55 million of dead money.

Thielen is the second longtime veteran to be released by the Vikings after they entered this week more than $24 million over the cap. On Monday, they let go of linebacker Eric Kendricks to save $9.5 million. They are still about $8 million over the cap, so more moves will need to be made to get under it by Wednesday’s start of the new league year.

After being undrafted out of Division II Minnesota State Mankato in 2013, Thielen was signed after taking part in a Vikings tryout camp. He ended up making the practice squad that season and was signed to the active roster in 2014. He made Pro Bowls in 2017 and 2018, and had 534 catches for 6,682 yards and 55 touchdowns in nine Minnesota seasons.

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) talks to quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) on the sidelines in the fourth quarter against Chicago Bears at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Dec. 30, 2018. Brad Rempel / USA TODAY Sports

“Adam’s story is one many know and admire and an incredible example of what a relentless pursuit of a goal can ultimately accomplish,” Vikings coach Kevin O’Connell said in a statement. “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.”


Salary-cap analyst Jason Fitzgerald had estimated in January that Thielen’s market value would be about half his $11.817 million base salary. Thielen said in February that the sides were talking about what to do about his contract. But he was released after no deal could be reached, and is now free to sign with any team as a free agent.

“Adam’s tremendous impact goes well beyond the Vikings organization,” Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf said in a statement. “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.”

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen
Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19), of Detroit Lakes, Minn., celebrates his touchdown on a blocked punt with safety Andrew Sendejo (34) during the first quarter against the Carolina Panthers at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Off the field, the wide receiver was very active in the community with the Adam Thielen Foundation. He was the team’s nominee for the 2022 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

“While Adam had a competitive fire on the field, he showed grace compassion and humility within his community. … We are grateful for the foundation he built,” the Wilfs said in their statement.

It’s uncertain how much the Vikings were willing to pay Thielen to return considering their cap issues. Minnesota this week also saved $683,000 on the cap by getting defensive lineman Ross Blacklock to reduce his $1.693 million nonguaranteed salary to a nonguaranteed minimum of $1.01 million, although he could make some money back with incentives. Had he not agreed to the new deal, Blacklock would have been released.

After having injury issues for three seasons, Thielen, who will be 33 in August, played in all 17 games in 2023 and caught 70 passes for 716 yards and six touchdowns. Thielen had been the team’s No. 2 receiver the past three seasons following the 2020 drafting of star Justin Jefferson.

With Thielen’s departure, K.J. Osborn could be in line to move into the No. 2 receiver role. Osborn, who caught 60 passes for 650 yards in 2023, said Wednesday that he knew when last season ended there was a chance Thielen might not return.

“(Thielen is) the best teammate I’ve ever had ever since I came to the Minnesota Vikings and I got drafted (in 2020),” Osborn said. “Him reaching out to me, texting to me, calling me. He wasn’t big-timing me, this big-time Pro Bowl receiver and the guy I watched highlights of, things like that. He’s taken me under his wing.”


Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen set an NFL record in an Oct. 28, 2018 game against New Orleans becoming the first player to start a season with eight straight 100-yard games.
Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

Thielen played for three different head coaches while with the Vikings. He was under Leslie Frazier when on the practice squad in 2013, had Mike Zimmer from 2014-21, and O’Connell last season. O’Connell said in his statement that in his first year as a head coach he “leaned on Adam for his work ethic, leadership and counsel multiple times to help get our team where we want it to be.”

Thielen was originally signed when Rick Spielman was Minnesota’s general manager. Spielman was replaced last year by Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, who gained plenty of respect for Thielen.

“Adam will forever be a part of the Minnesota Vikings family and history,” Adofo-Mensah said in a statement. “Setting the standard with his play on the field, being a selfless teammate and making a permanent impact in the community, Adam’s influence is significant. We are grateful for everything he brought to the Vikings organization.”

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