Adam Thielen made a Hallmark movie-esque career out of proving doubters wrong.
But a decade after it started, Thielen's career with the Vikings ended on Friday. The coldest, most factual explanation for the Vikings' decision: the doubters might finally be right about Thielen.
The amount he was slated to be paid in 2023 — scheduled to count more than $19 million against the Vikings' salary cap — did not match the production he showed in 2022.
A casual glance at his most recent season — 70 catches for 716 yards and six touchdowns — doesn't seem a whole lot different from the recent past. In 2021, for instance, he caught 67 passes for 726 yards. But the advanced stats show a player who is perhaps in a sharper decline than anyone, particularly Thielen, would like to admit.
Last season there were 40 receivers who were targeted at least 93 times. Among those 40 most targeted receivers, Thielen ranked dead last in receiving yards per route run at 1.08, per Pro Football Focus.
Now, part of that could be as a result of volume. Thielen was No. 2 in the entire league in routes run (711), an indication of just how much he was on the field in Kevin O'Connell's offense.
However: His 2022 teammate, Justin Jefferson, was No. 1 in routes run (729) last year. And he was No. 2 in receiving yards per routes run (2.55). Jefferson faced constant attention and double-teams from opponents and still more the doubled Thielen's yards per route.
By comparison for Thielen, he averaged 1.63 yards per route in 2021, 1.86 in 2020 and 2.10 in 2018 — his best season in the NFL when he finished with 1,373 yards.
One other comparison: Thielen averaged just 2.7 yards of separation from his defender in 2022, down from 3.1 yards in 2021. If you're not as open — perhaps as a result of having lost a step through age, injury or both — you aren't going to have the ball thrown your way as much.
Thielen seems to believe he is still capable of playing a bigger role in an offense, and perhaps he is. Maybe he will unite with a different QB in a different system — Aaron Rodgers, quite possibly with the Jets, makes a lot of sense — and feel like he is more valued.
For the Vikings, taking on more than $13 million dead money by cutting Thielen is a clear sign that their opinion was different than his.
Thielen proved the doubters wrong for a decade with the Vikings, and then they became the doubter.