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In wake of lucrative extension, Vikings’ Adam Thielen wonders ‘what if?’

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) looks on following the Oct. 14, 2018, game against the Arizona Cardinals at U.S. Bank Stadium. Brace Hemmelgarn / USA TODAY Sports

EAGAN, Minn. -- Six years ago, Adam Thielen was an undrafted free agent from a Division II school hoping to catch on with the Vikings at a rookie tryout camp. On Monday, April 15, the Detroit Lakes native signed a contract extension that makes him one of the 10 highest-paid receivers in the NFL.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been a success story like Adam Thielen,’’ Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said. “He’s a great example for all those kids out there who say dreams don’t come true.”

An undrafted rookie out of Minnesota State Mankato in 2013, Thielen signed a four-year, $64.2 million contract extension that will keep through the 2024 season. On Tuesday, he recalled how he hoped his tryout would get him a spot on the Vikings’ practice squad.

“When I look a back, I honestly get more nervous than I was in the moment,” Thielen said. “When I look back, I kind of get nervous because I know that if I wouldn’t have done this right or I would have been late to this, or I would have ran the wrong route, I might have never gotten the chance. It’s kind of crazy to look back at it.”

After spending 2013 on the practice squad, Thielen earned a spot on the 53-man roster and finally became a starter in 2016. He has made the Pro Bowl the past two years, and last season caught 113 passes for 1,373 yards.

Now, he has a contract extension that could be worth as much as $73 million with incentives. He will receive a guaranteed $33 million.

“Honestly, it never was about money for any of this,” he said. “It was just about being in the spot that my family and I wanted to be, and to be here locked up for a long time. … And to have the opportunity to give back (to the community).”

And maybe a little bit about the money.

“Obviously, money is good and everything, but championships are what it’s about,” he said.

The Vikings last season went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs, which has given Thielen some extra motivation in spring drills, which got underway Monday at TCP Performance Center in Eagan.

“When you have all that time to yourself, you start thinking about ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda,’ ” Thielen said. “But at the same time, I think that’s why it’s important to get back into the weight room and try to figure out things that you need to do better.”

At least Thielen won’t have his contract situation hanging over his head. He signed a four-year, $19.2 million contract as a restricted free agent in 2017 but essentially outplayed his deal.

The Vikings have salary-cap issues but were determined to get Thielen’s extension done in a timely manner. By giving him a $9 million signing bonus and a minimum salary of $805,000 for 2019, the Vikings raised his cap number by just $5,000 to $8.105 million.

“It shows what type of organization this is,” Thielen said. “They’re not here to low ball people, they’re not here to take advantage of people; they want to reward the people that helped this football team win games.”

Quarterback Kirk Cousins called Thielen’s extension a “positive all around.” He joked about how he’s been asked “two dozen times” since joining the Vikings last year what makes Thielen so good.

“People ask that question because they feel like he’s not that good, so they feel like there must be some secret sauce that he has that makes him good,” Cousins said. “But he’s a really good player in every area.”

Vikings safety Harrison Smith eventually figured that out. Smith was in his second season when Thielen showed up in 2013 and has watched closely his steady climb to getting the big extension.

“It’s awesome,” Smith said. “His story is a really cool one to kind of watch and be a small part of. So, very happy for him. He deserves every bit of it.”