The most important contract of the Vikings' future may have agreed to Thursday … by the Tennessee Titans.
The Titans and running back Chris Johnson agreed to a four-year, $53.5 million contract extension with $30 million guaranteed. However, with two years remaining on his contract, the total deal could be viewed as a six-year deal, as Pro Football Talk pointed out. Why is that so important to the Vikings?
With Johnson and Adrian Peterson considered two of the best running backs in the game today and at similar points in their career, the guaranteed money and average per year will be two of the big negotiating points between the Vikings and Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra.
The Titans had to get a deal done with Johnson because of his relative pittance of a salary. He was scheduled to make $1.065 million in base salary in 2011 and that number was actually scheduled to decrease to $960,000 in 2012. Meanwhile, Peterson is scheduled to make $10.72 million this year, effectively the final year of his rookie contract. Simply put, there was little chance that Johnson – who had the third-most rushing yards (4,593) in NFL history over the first three years of a career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau – would have played for one-tenth of Peterson's salary. The Titans knew that and when Johnson held out it was obvious they would have to significantly up the ante.
Peterson isn't far behind Johnson's first-three-years average. The Vikings' running back rushed for 4,484 yards in his first three seasons in the league, basically two fewer yards per game. In Johnson's first three years, he had 34 touchdowns; Peterson had 40 in his first three years.
While the Vikings are cap-strapped this year, signing Peterson to a long-term deal could push some of the cap hit farther back and allow them to make other moves. But the key will be how Johnson's contract ultimately is viewed. Taking an average over the next six years, as Pro Football Talk did, he will get $9.21 million per season, about $1.5 million less than Peterson's salary this year. But Dogra will certainly argue that the average is $13.375 million over four years.
Johnson also has Peterson trumped for money made this year, as the Titans deal calls for him to be paid $13 million this year.
Peterson's deal averaged "only" $4,882,500 in the first four years of his rookie contract, but this year he ballooned up to $10.72 million.
The Vikings will have the option of applying the franchise tag to Peterson, which would mean about a $12-million, one-year contract. Some players are turned off by the franchise tag, but if Peterson didn't play hardball with a $10.72 million payday, he might not hold out if he is franchised.
Still, the Vikings know what they have in Peterson – one of the league's best running backs, a full-effort, prideful player, and an extremely marketable asset for jersey sales and more. Working out a long-term deal is the best solution for both sides. If and when that can happen is the big unknown.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
Market gets set for Peterson's contract
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