Vikings release Adam Thielen; Is he immediately NFL’s best free-agent WR?

The Minnesota Vikings released veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen on Friday. He could now be the best the free-agent market has to offer at the position.

The Pro Bowl wideout has been a Minnesota mainstay since coming to the Vikings on a rookie tryout back in 2013. The 32-year-old has spent his entire pro career in Minnesota and made two Pro Bowls.

He’s also solidified in Vikings’ annals forever. Currently, he ranks third in receptions, fourth in receiving yards and third in receiving touchdowns.

Even on the other side of 30, he has been one of the league’s most productive receivers, especially when it comes to getting in the end zone. Since the 2020 season, Thielen has scored 30 touchdowns in 45 games played. His production dipped a bit in 2022, as he yielded to the Vikings’ budding superstar in Justin Jefferson, who was the league’s top receiver and Offensive Player of the Year for 2022.


Thielen provided the perfect clutch alternative to Jefferson as teams tried to double the superstar whenever possible. But a $19.97 million cap hit was too much for the Vikings going into 2023. They are projected to be $14 million over the cap as it currently stands and cutting Thielen will now save them nearly $6 million toward their total.

In any other market, being a 10-year veteran wideout might not bode so well for Thielen, but it’s relatively slim pickings this offseason. We’re looking at a free-agent class headlined by Jakobi Meyers and (a now healthy??) Odell Beckham Jr.

Thielen figures to slot in above both. 

Thielen’s career catch percentage is 68.8%. Though he dipped to 716 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2022, his yards per catch average remained over 10. Pro Football Focus graded Thielen as the NFL’s 31st-best wide receiver in the 2022 season. He got the ball rolling for the Minnesota offense quite a bit in 2022, as well. His receiving yards on first down ranked 23rd in the league last year, and he ranked 15th in first-down targets with 49.

Inside the red zone, he’s even better. He’s third in touchdowns since 2020 (his age-30 season) with 25, ranks second in catch percentage among players with a minimum of 40 targets and ranks fourth in receptions with 41.

Pinned up against a notorious red-zone threat like Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, you can see the capability Thielen still has.

“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. “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.”

Thielen isn’t a No. 1 receiver anymore, but he is still a contributor. In the twilight of his career, it’s likely he looks for a contender as his next landing spot. Because the Vikings released him, he will have the opportunity to choose for himself — a new experience for the 10-year vet.

There will be plenty of interest from other teams, especially given the lacking free-agent wideout class. On top of that, it’s not a particularly good draft class, either. Yet, there are no shortage of teams with receiver needs. Heck, there are teams within the division that should be interested.

But if you’re looking at contenders, the Buffalo Bills would make a ton of sense. They’re not in the best cap situation but there’s no doubt they need more receiving weapons for quarterback Josh Allen. Stefon Diggs is a great No. 1, but Thielen could provide the necessary complementary piece — especially in the red zone. Buffalo has been so close for so long, wouldn’t it be the happiest of endings to Thielen’s already incredible story if he was the missing piece?

His story is one of perseverance lining up with opportunity, and in a down year for receivers, Thielen is once again set up with the best possible opportunity of his own making.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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