The cruel reality that is the business of professional sports struck Minnesota last week when the Vikings released fan-favorite wide receiver Adam Thielen.
Thielen had long been admired by Vikings fans across the state as “Mr. Minnesota” for his underdog story of coming to the team undrafted from Minnesota State University, Mankato and making his way from a special teams contributor to a household name.
While I won’t retell his whole story, I will harp on how difficult it is for both parties to walk away from one another in an instance such as this.
The home-grown hero from Detroit Lakes has exploded for 2,366 yards and 30 touchdowns across the last three seasons and has been a safety net for quarterback Kirk Cousins alongside star receiver Justin Jefferson.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, with great production comes a hefty price tag.
According to overthecap.com, Thielen made $102,000 his first season with the team after signing as an undrafted free agent (UFA) in 2013.
Fast forward to 2023, and that same UFA is now in line to make a $20 million cap hit for the 2023-24 season.
On a team that desperately needs to make cap space for a busy off-season of signings, the Vikings knew that they could no longer afford to pay their No. 2 wide receiver what he rightfully deserves.
This is where business and legacy become tricky.
Thielen is the kind of player that fans want to see retire in the purple and gold, forever cemented as a hidden gem that turned into a local legend.
Now, fans will be forced to watch one of their favorite players don enemy colors and know that if he were to return one day, it would never truly be the same.
The Thielens of the sports world are the guys who deserve to ride out their careers with one team and be sent off properly – not be forced to flip teams 10 seasons into their career.
However, if you’re the Vikings, I’m not sure there is any other move to make if both parties can’t agree to restructure contracts.
The defense this past year was brutal – there is no ignoring that fact.
With the upcoming NFL draft and Brian Flores taking over as defensive coordinator next season, the Vikings needed to afford their upper brass the opportunity for some financial freedom.
Looking at this team and its distribution of money amongst its top athletes, Thielen was the right pick to release.
The only other athlete making more than him annually is Cousins, with untouchable players Harrison Smith and Bryan O’Neill as close seconds to Thielen at $19 million per year.
As tough as it may be to admit given the two parties’ history, paying your No. 2 receiver the second-highest salary on the team is not the best business decision.
While I will be sad to him sign on elsewhere, Vikings fans have to understand a move like this does not come without great reasoning.
Minnesota understands the time to win is now.
There were bound to be cap casualties along the way, but this team is officially in its championship window. There is no time to waste.
That being said, don’t plan on selling your Thielen jerseys just yet.
My hunch is that he will be back one day.
My only hope is if that day comes, the organization treats him with the class that he deserves.