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Adam Thielen’s status could throw a wrench in Vikings’ free agency plans

Oct 9, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) celebrates his touchdown with tight end MyCole Pruitt (83) during the first quarter against the Houston Texans at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into last offseason, the Buffalo Bills thought they had solid depth at receiver with Sammy Watkins as their No.1 and Robert Woods and Chris Hogan as the second and third options. That’s until the New England Patriots swooped in, stole Hogan and turned him into their top deep threat. A team could do the same thing to the Minnesota Vikings with receiver Adam Thielen.

Like Hogan in 2016, Thielen is a restricted free agent. Buffalo worked out their salary cap to have just enough cap room to re-sign Hogan, until the Patriots offered him a three-year, $12 million deal. The Bills could have matched the offer and kept Hogan if New England hadn’t been extra clever and structured the contract to carry a $5.5 million cap hit in the first season. Hogan caught 38 passes for 680 yards (17.9 yards per reception), while the Bills struggled to fill his shoes.

Cap room isn’t thought to be a big problem for Minnesota. Releasing Adrian Peterson would create $38 million in space and that number could be increased by restructuring Brian Robison’s deal.

But here’s where it could get hairy: Omar Kelly of the Sun-Sentinal reported that Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, who caught 42 passes for 726 yards last year, is seeking a five-year contract worth $30 million in free agency. By that measure, a potential offer sheet for Thielen after his 69-catch, 976-yard season would be enormous. And, if said team is smart like the Patriots, they will load up the cap hit early in the contract.

In that case, the Vikings would still be able to keep their 26-year-old receiver, but improving the offensive line and potentially bringing back free agents like Cordarrelle Patterson, Captain Munnerlyn or Terence Newman would be much tougher.

NFL.com reported that right tackle Rick Wagner will be seeking somewhere in the ballpark of $10 million, which means the price for top left tackle Andrew Whitworth will be even higher.

Swinging a trade for a tackle like Jason Peters, who the Philadelphia Eagles may deal in the offseason, would suddenly become almost impossible.

If first-round pick Laquon Treadwell had shown signs of becoming a quality playmaker, the Vikings could let Thielen walk without feeling too much heat. But with only one catch in Treadwell’s rookie year, there are no guarantees he will even become a regular.

And replacing Thielen on the free agent market could be easier said than done. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the 18th best receiver in the NFL this year – a higher grade than top receiver free agents Alshon Jeffrey and Terrelle Pryor.

At the bottom of the screen, you can see his uncanny ability to get open using his footwork, quickness and strength.

Thielen had a 75.0% catch percentage and dropped two passes on 92 targets this season according to Sporting Charts. Add his chemistry with quarterback Sam Bradford to the mix and you have a very difficult player to replace.

Tendering Thielen might be the best way to keep teams away from an offer sheet. ProFootball Talk explained tenders this way: “The lowest level provides a right or first refusal. The second-round tender provides a right of first refusal and (duh) a second-round pick as compensation if the original team doesn’t match. The first-round tender carries a right of first refusal and a first-round pick as compensation.”

Last year, the tender amounts were $1.671 million, $2.553 million, and $3.635 million.

 

Adam Thielen and the long journey for undrafted free agents





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