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Suddenly underpaid Adam Thielen not thinking contract

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen before the start of the Vikings game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press file photo

EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen might be the NFL's best bargain.

After bursting on the scene two seasons ago, Thielen signed a three-year, $17 million contract last offseason that pays him an average of roughly $4.8 million a season, according to OverTheCap.com. He then caught a career-high 91 passes for career-high 1,276 yards while assuming the No. 1 role while partner Stefon Diggs battled a groin injury.

This summer, Thielen, 27, watched wide receivers across the league cash in with more lucrative extensions. That includes Diggs, the Minnesota Miracle wideout who signed a five-year deal worth $14.4 million per season.

"Honestly, I couldn't be happier for him and his family," Thielen said of Diggs. "I've never seen anybody grind the way he does in the offseason and during the season. If there's anybody that deserves getting a contract like that, it's him."

Thielen added $3 million to his extension by reaching bonuses for 70, 80 and 90 catches last season. Still, an argument can be made that Thielen deserves a contract like Diggs has, too. In light of 2017 production, his current deal is drastically below market value.

As to not ruffle any feathers, Thielen deferred to his agent, Blake Baratz, when asked point blank about whether this offseason has made him re-evaluate his current deal.

"That's why I have an agent," he said, adding that he'd rather keep his focus on football. "He takes care of that stuff so I don't have to worry about it."

In search of comment, the Pioneer Press reached out to Baratz and did not immediately hear back.

"When I signed my contract before last season, that's why I did it, because I didn't want to have worry about it," Thielen said. "I wanted to just go out and play football, and it allowed me to do that. I want to continue to do that, just play football, focus on the things I can control, and let the other people take care of that."

As of right now, the Vikings have roughly $9.8 million in salary cap space. Linebacker Anthony Barr is widely considered the next player in line for an extension.

Thielen has become a folk hero of sorts in Minnesota, a kid from Detroit Lakes that has risen to stardom after going undrafted out of Minnesota State Mankato. He signed to the practice squad in 2013, made the 53-man roster in 2014, and became a special teams ace in 2015 before he really started to make a name for himself.

"I don't even know if I remember him from the first training camp, to be honest," joked head coach Mike Zimmer, who took over in 2014. "He's always been a great competitor. He tried to get on the field any way he possibly could. Now he's a guy for us."

While his current deal will likely be a talking point for the foreseeable future, Thielen doesn't feel any animosity toward Diggs for getting paid. The two are good friends and push one another to be better players.

"It starts in the offseason and how we work off the field," Thielen said. "I see him doing stuff (via) Instagram and things like that, and it makes me think, 'Man, I'd better get my but out there and be doing the same things.'

"Then when we're in the building, in meeting rooms, we hold each other accountable. He's the first guy to tell me I ran a terrible route. That's exactly how it should be."

It's safe to say Thielen will enter this season as confident as ever, even if he doesn't restructure his contract before it starts. He's started to garner more attention from defenders across the league, and because of that, knows he has to keep his focus on improving.

"Your play kind of speaks for itself," Thielen said. "I just want to make sure that I continue to get better, because people are probably starting to realize that I'm a little better than they thought I was."

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