The Vikings continue to take care of their own. Adam Thielen is just the latest in a series of home-grown players to earn a pay check with the team that first gave them their shot.
Thielen’s extension was hefty, but undeniable well-deserved. He has been one of the most productive receivers in football since becoming a starter in 2016. And Vikings did the appropriate thing and upped his contract from that of an undrafted free agent to that of a star. With this deal, as they have done year after year under Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer, the Vikings have shown that developing their own is their top priority.
There is no debate that the Vikings have drafted well over the last decade, and especially over the last five years. They have found starters, Pro Bowlers and All-Pros up and down the draft, and even through undrafted free agency. But plenty of teams draft well. What makes the Vikings unique is their commitment to retaining their drafted talent to their second contract and beyond.
Look no further than last offseason. After the 2017 season, the Vikings had five players set to hit free agency in 2019. The assumption was that Spielman would have to make sacrifices in order to sign high-priced quarterback Kirk Cousins, and at least one of those five players would end up as the lame duck. Alas, Eric Kendricks, Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs all signed long-term deals in 2018 and Trae Waynes had his 2019 option picked up. That was four home-grown starters that the Vikings worked to hang on to.
So as a result, Anthony Barr became the likely candidate to go elsewhere. He was a year older than the others, had more accolades and would likely merit a significant pay raise at a position of somewhat declining value in today’s NFL. When the Jets reportedly offered him over $14 million this offseason, it seemed a done deal that Barr would walk.
And yet, he re-signed in Minnesota for less money. Obviously, his $33 million guaranteed is still significant money. But Barr turned down the heftier contract to stay with the team that drafted him and essentially built a defense around his versatility.
All five of those question mark players are under contract, and four are signed long-term. Only Waynes has a murky future with the team, with rumors abound about his being traded. But even his is a story of sticking to the plan. Waynes’ beginnings as a starter were rocky, as he was consistently beaten deep and wont to commit penalties. However, as Zimmer stuck with Waynes in the starting role, he has evolved into a quality starter. Perhaps, like the others, he will merit a large pay raise himself when he hits free agency.
This has consistently been the story with the Vikings. They draft and season quality players, and then reward them with long-term deals. From Everson Griffen to Harrison Smith to Xavier Rhodes to Thielen this past weekend, the Vikings value in-house development above all else. And the players respond in kind with quality play and commitment to the organization. When other options open, Vikings players have time and time again chosen to stay home rather than test new waters.
Granted, this philosophy has yet to yield a Super Bowl appearance. But is has created a high end roster at most positions, and theoretically put them in a position to challenge for years to come.
–Sam Smith is the Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage Vikings and Deputy Editor for Full Press NFL. Like and Follow @samc_smith.
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