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A year away from Minnesota, receiver Adam Thielen's first as a football player at any level, opened his eyes to the reality faced by many of his former Vikings teammates during 10 seasons: being uprooted from home and establishing yourself in a new place while keeping a strict schedule tuned for optimal performance.

Thielen recently spoke with the Star Tribune about his newfound perspective, finding peace after a frustrating split with the Vikings, Kirk Cousins following him to the NFC South, and his family's passion to continue charitable efforts back home. During his first season with the Panthers, Thielen said he sent messages relaying "no hard feelings" to general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and head coach Kevin O'Connell.

"I think Kwesi and Kevin have done a great job setting themselves up for the future and having a really specific vision," Thielen said. "Even with my last year there, you could tell they had a very specific vision of where they wanted to go and you can respect that. Obviously, I would've loved to finish my time in Minnesota and would've been all for that, but their vision and all that was very clear. So, you can respect that."

Thielen and his family remain active in Minnesota, where he said they'll reside this summer. On Wednesday, the Thielen Foundation announced a three-year agreement with UNRL, a Minnesota-based athleisure company. The partnership includes an annual six-figure donation to the foundation, which holds events like youth football camps in Eden Prairie (May 11) and Detroit Lakes (June 22), Thielen's hometown. In January, the foundation awarded a $75,000 grant to Red Lake High School for a new weight room.

Thielen, who turns 34 in August, is entering the second year of a three-year, $25 million contract he signed with the Panthers. He led Carolina with 103 catches and 1,014 yards last season.

Q: What do you hope this money does for the Thielen Foundation?

A: Not only are they committed to a cash donation, but along with those big school projects with redoing the weight rooms, providing clothing gear for the sports teams, providing them with jerseys. I think it helps us support more schools. … So kids can be really proud of playing sports and ultimately help them graduate high school and move on to bigger and better things.

Q: How does your growing family impact your work in youth sports?

A: It helps when you have your own kids [Asher, 7; Hudson, 5; and Cora, 2]. It changes your perspective. But also, I think when you go and you see the impact it's making in some of these places, that's what really pushes you to want to do more because you get to hear some of these kids talk about how it changed their mindset or changed their energy level or excitement to be involved in a sport. … The impact is what makes you want to do more.

Q: What was it like playing home games outside Minnesota?

A: You get a whole different perspective. You start to understand what guys go through that I had never had to go through that I took for granted for 10 years in Minnesota. Just small things like traveling back and forth for OTAs. You saw other guys doing it, but you didn't really understand it. And just being in a city that's just different. In Minnesota, I was born and raised a Vikings fan. Just that organization and the team backing, you take it for granted when you're there. But you realize how great of a fan base and how supportive the community is in Minnesota.

Q: At the NFLPA golf tournament in Mexico this month, you were part of Team Harrison Smith along with Case Keenum and Eric Kendricks. Since you're a scratch golfer, I assume you all won?

A: We did win, but it wasn't because of me. I didn't play great. … Obviously, it's always great when you get around teammates. … I played 10 years with Harrison, eight with EK. And the year with Case going to the NFC Championship that season. There was a lot of reminiscing going on. It felt like Case was in Minnesota a lot longer than a year, but just being able to catch up with those guys playing golf for four hours and competing together again was very special.

Q: What do you think of Harrison Smith returning for Year 13?

A: I was texting him after the season and trying to get an update on what he's got going on. … I think he's feeling great. I think it kind of rejuvenated him being in that defense and what [Brian] Flores kind of brought to that defense. I'm so happy for him. He is the staple of Vikings football. … Being able to play with him for 10 years you understand why: the impact he makes with his teammates, the community, the way he approaches the game and the way he changes the game and the way he's still doing it.

Q: How long do you want to play?

A: That's a great question. Not much longer. It's hard to say for me right now. I'm so focused on getting better, my body, taking advantage of being around family that that decision will come. I pray about it as well and it'll be kind of a year-to-year basis, how the mind is feeling, how the body is feeling. How the family situation is. My kids are getting older, but also the team. If the team is progressing and things are looking good and they want to keep me, things like that, you never know. But right now, definitely not putting a number on it.

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Q: Were you surprised to see Kirk Cousins leave for the Falcons?

A: Business decisions have to be made. Unfortunately, sometimes you let the emotions take over. … You don't realize sometimes the business side of it: the cap hits, the direction they want to go, things like that. With that being said, I obviously didn't expect it from an outside perspective. Because of how well he played last year and him coming into his own of being that leader and being the fun guy that keeps things light and having fun out there. For the first time I felt like in his career, he was just really truly out there being himself and playing at a high level.

Q: How did you handle moving on from the Vikings?

A: I'd say it's tough. Initially the emotions kind of get the best of you where you get frustrated and you just don't understand it, but at the end of the day I'm a believer. I know how Christ would react to it. You just have to be forgiving, move forward and respect it, and I do. So, I've sent several messages [during the 2023 season] to Kevin and Kwesi just kind of letting them know that there's no hard feelings and that I respect those guys and understand there's a business to it. If it was perfectly written out, things probably would've looked different, but you just have to move on and respect those things.

Q: And now Kirk is back in your division?

A: Kirk and I are close. I've had a lot of dialogue with him over the last couple months and then obviously after he signed. Gave him some space during the time when everything was going down, but was able to connect with him after. Yeah, obviously excited for him and his family. It'll be really weird being in the same division and playing twice a year, but very happy for him and his family. Kind of going back to where Julie [Cousins] is from and having a lot of connections there. That was the first time I ever met Kirk was in Atlanta, when he was hanging out in his in-law's basement in the offseason. [Stefon] Diggs and I went out there [in 2018] to see him and hung out in his in-law's basement the first time we met.