EAGAN, Minn. -- Adam Thielen beat the odds in 2013, but he wouldn’t be feeling as good if he were trying to make an NFL team in 2020.
When the then-unknown wide receiver made the Vikings practice squad seven years ago as an undrafted free agent out of Division II Minnesota State Mankato, he had a rookie minicamp, spring drills and four preseason games to show what he could do, and the Vikings had a 90-man training camp roster. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Vikings players might not have any of those things this year.
“I know that if I was going through this offseason as a rookie, I wouldn’t be in the NFL,” Thielen told the Pioneer Press. “There’s no chance. So, that part is difficult (for undrafted free agents), but at the same time it’s a unique situation that nobody could have anticipated.”
There were no on-field drills this past spring, and NFL teams might be allowed just 80 players in training camp and have no preseason games.
Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and selected other players reported Thursday to the TCO Performance Center in Eagan for the start of camp; Thielen and other veterans will report Tuesday. Thielen, who first made the Vikings’ 53-man roster in 2014, is entering his seventh NFL season and has made two Pro Bowls.
In an interview set up by Gone Rogue Snacks, which Thielen is endorsing, he discussed a variety of topics. With the NFL agreeing to test players daily for coronavirus during at least during the first two weeks of training camp and enacting other safety measures, Thielen is confident the league will make the situation as safe and successful as possible.
“I have a lot of faith and trust in the NFL and the (NFL Players Association) that they’re doing what it takes to make sure that it’s a safe environment for us to play. … We want to play, and that’s the truth,” said Thielen, the Vikings’ first union alternate after player rep Kirk Cousins. “We want to get out there. We want to be around our teammates. We want to play football, but we also want to make sure we’re protected, and that the league is taking serious our protections because we’re giving up a lot to play this game.”
It remains uncertain how many, if any, fans will attend games this season. A team official said the Vikings are well aware of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s mandate restricting gatherings to 250 people, and that would have to change or they would need to get permission to exceed that number for games at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“It’s one of those things where you kind of just figure it out as we go,” Thielen said. “Obviously, we’d love to play in front of a packed stadium, but who knows what it’s going to look like. So, at the end of the day, we’re athletes, we have to figure out how to adapt and figure out how to make the most of any situation. We just want to play football, and we want to make sure that we’re safe and others are safe as well. So, whatever that takes, we’re willing to do.”
Thielen is coming off an injury-riddled 2019 season in which he missed six games and caught just 30 passes for 418 yards, well down from his 113 receptions for 1,373 yards in 2018. But his profile has increased enough in recent years to be sought out for endorsements.
That includes becoming a spokesman for Gone Rogue High Protein Chips, which are available at Hy-Vee stores in Minnesota and six other Midwestern states.
“It’s been a great partnership so far,” Thielen said. “And looking forward to the future.”
And to think that seven years ago Thielen went undrafted, didn’t immediately get a free-agent contract, and had to survive a rookie tryout camp just to earn a spot in spring drills. Now, he hates to see that some players this year in similar spots might not get a chance to be noticed.
“You have to try to make the most of your situation, and you can’t control a lot of it,” Thielen said of this year’s undrafted free agents. “So, I know there’s going to be a lot of guys that maybe have to try again next year or maybe get some workouts throughout the season. I don’t know. But it’s definitely going to be a different year.”