Adam Thielen’s extension shows his importance to the Vikings

(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Adam Thielen
(Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images) Adam Thielen /

Two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings were hoping that Adam Thielen’s six-game breakout wasn’t a fluke. Today, he’s one of the most important players on the team.

It was the spring of 2017 and the Minnesota Vikings were coming off one of their most disappointing seasons in franchise history. While nothing will compare to the disaster that was the 2010 season, Minnesota’s 2016 campaign came close.

Although, there were much bigger reasons to look back on that season in disdain. One element was the horrid rookie year from Laquon Treadwell.

The Vikings’ 2016 first-round pick hauled in just one pass for 15 yards during his rookie campaign. Still, Minnesota was optimistic that he could develop into the dominant pass-catcher he was in college at Ole Miss.

At the same time, the Vikings were starting to notice a young wide receiver by the name of Adam Thielen. Where Treadwell’s 2016 season left much to be desired, Thielen was a pleasant surprise after spending most of his career on special teams.

After a modest start to the year, outside of a seven catch, 121 yards, one touchdown line against the Houston Texans in Week 5, Thielen caught fire in the final six games of the 2016 season. During this stretch, he hauled in 32 passes for 449 yards and two touchdowns that both came in a 202-yard demolition of the Green Bay Packers in Week 16.

The hot finish clearly piqued the interest of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and as the winter began to thaw in Minnesota, the two sides struck a four-year, $17.7 million contract extension that would see if his breakout was a fluke.

Fast forward to Friday and Thielen has signed another four-year extension with the Vikings. Although, this time his new deal is going to pay him as one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League.

What has happened during the past two years with Thielen is something that should be reserved for a Disney movie.

Everyone already knows he was on a $500 scholarship from Minnesota State-Mankato prior to him turning heads at a tryout with the Vikings in 2013. Everyone also knows that his training camp performance coined the moniker “Mr. Mankato” and him just making Minnesota’s roster was an accomplishment.

But since signing his extension in 2017, all Thielen has done is rank fourth in receptions (204), sixth in receiving yards (2,649) and tie for 15th in touchdowns (13). In addition, he’s combined well with Stefon Diggs (166 receptions, 1,870 yards, 17 scores since 2017) to form one of the NFL’s top receiving duos.

That breakout has turned the Vikings’ offense from one that was one-dimensional and relied on an aging Adrian Peterson to one that can score at any moment. That is evident after seeing Minnesota rank 18th in passing offense in 2016, then climb to 11th in 2017 and 13th in 2018 (a number that could be higher if it weren’t for other torpedoing factors on the team’s offense).

Such a development was huge after it was found out that the Vikings had whiffed on Treadwell. Had Minnesota decided to go a different route and pick Ohio State receiver Michael Thomas instead— who was selected by the New Orleans Saints 24 picks later in that draft — it would be curious to see if Thielen’s breakout would have even happened in Minnesota or (even stranger) at all.

The importance of Thielen to the Vikings’ offense is exactly why they needed to get this extension done as soon as possible.

With Diggs and Thielen locked up for the next four seasons, it gives Minnesota an offensive window where they can use Kirk Cousins, Dalvin Cook, and another playmaker that could be added in this year’s draft to compete for the Super Bowl that has continued to allude the franchise.

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Such a scenario would have been considered crazy talk two years ago when Thielen put pen to paper on his initial extension — but, hey — nothing about Thielen’s rise to becoming one of the most important players on the Vikings has been according to plan.