It is being widely reported that Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen would like an extension, and likely a pay raise, from his team. Such a demand is not unwarranted, as Thielen has played like a superstar. This past year Thielen accrued 1,373 yards over 16 games, his second consecutive 1,000-yard season, and 9 receiving touchdowns. Compared to the rest of the league, he played like a top 10 reciever. He finished tenth overall in receiving touchdowns, tenth in yards per touch, ninth in yardage, and fourth in total receptions. Despite this, Adam Thielen was paid only $6.1 million. The contract he signed in 2017 has proven to be a remarkable value for the Vikings, averaging only $4.8 million per year. For reference, receivers like Torrey Smith (CAR), Ryan Grant (IND), and Seth Roberts (OAK) earn more on an average per year basis. None of these receivers scored more than two touchdowns or gained more than 500 yards this past season.
There is little direct reason the Vikings need to re-negotiate with Adam Thielen. He is under the same contract for the next two years and has little power over the Vikings organization. Sure, he could hold out, refusing to play while sacrificing his salary to send a message to the front office. Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell famously sat out all of the 2018 season with a similar contract dispute. But Thielen has never entertained the possibility of holding out, and genuinely seems to enjoy playing for Minnesota. His agent has even stated publicly that he’s “not [the] type of person” to hold out. If they wanted to, the Vikings could make Thielen play out the rest of his deal without any added money.
Still, the Vikings will consider giving him an extension. There are reasons to believe that Adam Thielen will still be a good wide receiver in a couple of years. By re-negotiating his contract, the Vikings can make sure their star offensive player stays in Minnesota for the majority of his career. Stefon Diggs is under contract for the next four seasons, so the team could lock up this explosive duo by simply adding two more years to Thielen’s contract.
Additionally, team reputation matters in this league. Actions speak louder than words, and by honoring the true value of Thielen’s play on the field the front office would be sending a message to players: We will pay for good play, regardless of your contract. Such a reputation is essential for attracting mid-tier free agents. Players, especially those who exit free agency feeling like the NFL undervalues them, will be more likely to choose the Vikings after seeing how well they treated Adam Thielen. It could also motivate players already on the team to outperform their contract, earning the opportunity to gain a pay raise for themselves as well.
The Vikings are currently limited on cap space, which is concerning given that the team still needs to sign additional players. This limitation hampers the ability of the team to give Thielen a lot of money this year. However, the Vikings still have some flexibility. By promising him guaranteed money, the Vikings can keep Thielen as a low cost receiver for the next two years before increasing his salary in an extension. The team would likely be fine giving him guaranteed money as they expect him to be playing in a starting role anyway, while Thielen will be receiving more money, regardless of any future injury. In a sport where injuries happen frequently, players tremendously value guaranteed money.
Additionally, the Vikings have the benefit of waiting until after free agency and the draft to extend Thielen because he is already on the team. After all other contracts are negotiated, the team can give Thielen a substantial amount of money in a signing bonus – meaning the cap hit is spread out along the length of the contract. If Thielen was to sign a deal for 4 years the Vikings could give him a hefty bonus and only be on the hook for 25% of the added cost in 2019, while he would walk away with the entirety of that bonus on signing day. Thus, they can maximize the value of whatever cap space is left over after filling other team needs.
In the end, a contract extension is a win-win. The team retains a star player for the future while helping their league-wide reputation, and Adam Thielen is rewarded with more money to bring home to his family. It won’t happen soon, and certainly not before Free Agency, but the Vikings should be looking to extend Adam Thielen. Fans should expect more news and perhaps a new deal to be signed in May or early this summer.