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

The Minnesota Vikings released veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen on Friday. Now he might 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 in a rookie tryout in 2013. The now 32-year-old has spent his entire professional career in Minnesota and has made two Pro Bowls.

It has also been cemented forever in Viking annals. He currently ranks third in receptions, fourth in yards and third in receiving touchdowns.

Even on the other side of 30, he has been one of the most productive receivers in the league, especially when it comes to getting into 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 gave way to Vikings superstar Justin Jefferson, who was the league’s top receiver and offensive player of the year in 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 in 2023. They’re projected to be over the $14 million cap hit as it currently stands, and cutting Thielen now will save them nearly $6 million in your total

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

Thielen ranks above both.

Thielen’s career field goal percentage is 68.8%. Although he dropped to 716 receiving yards and six touchdowns in 2022, his yards per catch average remained above 10. Pro Football Focus rated Thielen as the 31st best wide receiver in the NFL in the 2022 season. He also got the ball rolling for Minnesota’s offense in 2022. His receiving yards on first downs ranked 23rd in the league last year and he ranked 15th in first down targets with 49.

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

Against a notorious red zone threat like Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, you can see what ability Thielen still has.

“Adam’s story is one that many know and admire and an incredible example of what a relentless pursuit of a goal can ultimately achieve,” said Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. “For more than a decade, Adam honed his craft to become one of the most recognized wide receivers in the NFL. During that same time, he spent much of his time in his home state, which made him make 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 mentorship several times to help bring the our team to where we wanted it to be last season. I appreciate Adam’s contributions and will look to continued success for him, Caitlin and their children.”

Thielen is no longer a No. 1 receiver, but he’s still a contributor. In the twilight of his career, he’s likely to look to a contender as his next landing spot. Since 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 lack of a free agent class. Also, it’s not a particularly good draft class either. However, there is 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 lot of sense. They’re not in the best situation, but there’s no question 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 ending 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 once again has 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, adding the title of Super Bowl champion (and boat parade participant) to her resume. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

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