As grateful and loyal as Thielen is to his home-state team, though, he’s not about to simply accept a discount for the new contract he’s in line for. After a breakout 2016 season, Thielen will become a restricted free agent on Thursday when the market opens.
”This is my team. I love this team. I’ve put in a lot of time and effort to help this team win games, and I’d love to be here,” Thielen said. ”But at the same time, I want to be respected and for what I’ve done. I feel like I’ve proven that I can be a starter in this league, and I want to be respected in that way.”
The word respect was mentioned several times by Thielen in a recent interview with reporters at an event for the team’s winter fan fest. There is plenty of respect within the organization for Thielen, an affable, diligent player who went largely unnoticed by colleges at Detroit Lakes High School about 200 miles northwest of Minneapolis and had to sell himself to Minnesota State for a scholarship.
He impressed Vikings coaches and scouts enough to land on the practice squad as a rookie in 2013, stood out on special teams the following year once he made the active roster and improved so steadily as a wide receiver that he became a full-time starter with Stefon Diggs last season. Thielen caught 69 passes for 967 yards and five touchdowns for an offense that ranked fifth-worst in the league in total yards.
”Being able to put the film out there that I did and prove that I can be a starter in this league, it’s put me in a good situation,” Thielen said, adding: ”Hopefully I can stay here long term.”
Thielen co-owns a training center, ETS Elite Thielen , with partner Ryan Englebert, whom he has entrusted to work him out since leaving college. Thielen has become well-versed in the business side of the NFL, too, peppering agent Blake Baratz with questions about the process and the rules.
The Vikings have placed a second-round tender on Thielen that’s worth a little more than $2.7 million for 2017 if he doesn’t sign a longer-term deal. The Vikings can match any offer he agrees to with another club, which would then have to give up a second-round draft pick by signing Thielen away from Minnesota.
The 26-year-old Thielen is hopeful he doesn’t even get to that point.
”It’s going to be cheaper now than it will be moving forward! This wasn’t a fluke,” Baratz tweeted on Wednesday. ”The man can play ball. Period.”
Restricted free agents are often undrafted players like Thielen, since they become eligible after three accrued seasons. The standard for drafted players is typically a four-year contract. Once they get to their second contract, though, the round in which a player was drafted, if at all, no longer matters. With an unrestricted free agent market that’s considered thin, the price for players like Thielen could be high this month.
”That’s not really in my control,” Thielen said, deferring to Baratz. ”For me, it’s just going about my business and letting him earn his money.”
Thielen would love to have road-trip roommate and fellow wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson back in 2017, but Patterson, also the team’s kickoff returner, is one of the unrestricted free agents the Vikings might opt to let leave.
”In an ideal world we’d both be playing together on the same team,” Thielen said, ”but there are so many different factors that lead into my own situation, let alone his situation, so I think we’re both just letting it play out and seeing what happens.”
NOTE: The Vikings re-signed OL Jeremiah Sirles, who was an exclusive rights free agent, on Wednesday. Sirles played both tackle and guard spots last year.
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL