Following a 2013 season spent with the practice squad, Thielen made two starts in each of the next two seasons before breaking out in 2016 with 69 receptions for 967 yards and five touchdowns, emerging as a force alongside Stefon Diggs, and later Justin Jefferson.
Thielen accumulated 534 catches for 6,682 yards and 55 touchdowns with two Pro Bowl seasons in his nine years on the 53-man roster, yet he took a true back seat to Jefferson in 2022. He was no slouch — he still had 70 receptions — but aside from an injury-shortened 2019, the wideout posted his lowest receiving yardage total (716) since becoming a starter and worst TD mark (six) since 2017.
The diminished production and a ballooning $19.97 million cap hit culminated in a parting of ways.
“You know, it’s really hard to explain the entire situation,” Thielen said. “I don’t think there was ever a point where I was unhappy with what I was doing. It was just pretty clear that they had a different vision for me than maybe I had for a way that I could help the team win games. There wasn’t a wrong thing. There wasn’t disrespect on either side. I think it was just time for both sides to move on.”
The Vikings’ vision moving forward involves continuing to feed Jefferson, who led the league with 128 receptions and 1,809 yards in 2022, his first All-Pro campaign. To fill Thielen’s void, Minnesota drafted USC wide receiver Jordan Addison at No. 23 overall. K.J. Osborn, who has 1,305 yards and 12 scores on 110 receptions since 2021, should have first dibs to round out the room’s top three spots.
Meanwhile, Thielen goes from working with a veteran in Kirk Cousins to helping lay the foundation for No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young to develop into a franchise quarterback. He’ll be 33 when the season starts — the elder statesman of a Carolina WR corps that now includes DJ Chark and second-round rookie Jonathan Mingo.
It’s a role Thielen is embracing.
“For me, you have to go prove it on the field every single day,” he said about heading into Year 11. “You have to show you’re not getting older and slowing down. … This was just a great offseason for me. From the day the season was over, I was able to get back to training — get faster, stronger and more explosive.”