Sunday slant: Peterson still a bargain

Matthew Stafford's contract extension shows just how much teams value quarterbacks, but the Vikings' biggest contract decision over the last five years came at running back. No matter how the contract numbers are presented for Adrian Peterson, the NFL's MVP seems like a bargain.

Buyer's remorse.

Everyone has it now and again on the big purchases. Sometimes it's not even remorse, more just wondering if that costly item was researched well enough to make it "feel" like a good buy, whether it was or wasn't.

Even the small purchases can feel that way. A few years ago, a rookie to the Mexican flea markets (my sister-in-law) saw a few Americans negotiate some "Mexican junk" down a few bucks and she had to test her skills. She had the item in sight and started the time-honored bargaining process with those far more experienced. When the one-sided contest was done, she proudly walked away with her bargain boasting of the great deal. At the very next junk outlet, the item was priced lower than she bargained for and it was then she began to realize you should rarely pay even 50 percent of asking price when it's hardened negotiators proclaiming their product as "almost free."

That story came to mind and brought a smile to my face again after contemplating and researching the Matthew Stafford contract. Contrary to buying "Mexican junk," where you pretty much know what you're purchasing, NFL teams can never be sure what they are getting when making multi-million investments. With Stafford, they are getting a proven quarterback, but even the Lions can't be absolutely sure how his body will hold up.

The biggest takeaway from Stafford's five-year, $76 million contract extension is that the bigger and longer the contract, the more misleading they can be when presented to the media. Guaranteed money matters most, then a look at how much it would cost the team to abandon that contract a few years down the road if anything were to happen, like Stafford getting seriously injured or the Lions needing to move into their 172nd rebuilding process. In Stafford's case, $33.5 million is guaranteed, and it would only cost the Lions $11 million to get out from under that contract in three years if he can't restore the Detroit roar.

We won't know for years how that franchise-changing decision will play out for the Lions, but the Vikings had their own history-changing decision to consider when they signed Adrian Peterson to a seven-year, $96 million deal just days before the 2011 season began.

No one disputes the NFL has turned into a passing league, but the Vikings believe they can pave their path with a player as special as Peterson, and to a degree that was proved last year when he accounted for 42 percent of the rushing and receiving yardage the Vikings had.

To date, the Vikings haven't regretted that signing one bit. And, unlike many contracts, his cap hit hardly increases from one year to the next, even as the television contracts are expected to send the salary cap on a rapid ascent. From 2014 to 2017, his cap charge increases a total of $1.6 million – from $14.4 million in 2014 to $16 million in the final year of his deal.

That's still less than Jared Allen's $16.86 million hit this year under what is expected to be a much more restrictive salary cap than the NFL has four years from now, when Peterson is in the final year of his deal.

Peterson, the league's MVP, isn't even in the top 10 cap hits for 2013.

But another observation from the Stafford signing is that not all earnings are presented equally. The cap hit in one year isn't always representative of the overall contract as teams with cap issues will often delay the pain and teams with a good cap situation can put more of the hit in the current year.

Perhaps the most warped view of NFL earnings from certain players comes from a gallery of the top 100 earning athletes in 2012. That list lumps the base salary for the year and total signing bonus into one season. In other words, the most recent contract will always win out because of the signing bonus. In their list, Drew Brees was the NFL's top wage-earner and fifth overall, taking in $51 million last year – $37 million in a signing bonus that for cap purposes is spread out over the five-year deal he signed, $3 million in base salary, and $11 million in endorsements.

For team purposes, however, when trying to figure out what it means to the Saints salary cap now and into the future, the numbers that matter quickly escalate. He had a $10.4 million cap hit in 2012, rising to $17.4 million this year and $27.4 million in 2016, the final year of his deal.

In total, the NFL had 13 players on Forbes' top-100 earners among athletes. Six of those were in the top 25 and all of them were quarterbacks – Brees, Aaron Rodgers (sixth at $49 million), Tom Brady (11th at $38.3 million), Joe Flacco (13th at $36.8 million), Peyton Manning (19th at $30 million) and Tony Romo (24th at $28.8 million).

Peterson wasn't among them. Nor was he among the top-100 athletes overall on the Forbes list because he received his big signing bonus in 2011 and did relatively little in endorsements last year. Instead, he concentrated on his rehabilitation from a knee surgery, a move that paid off for him and the team.

Peterson does top the list of running backs for cap hit in 2013 at $13.9 million, but even that seems like a good deal when compared to the next back on the list – Tennessee's Chris Johnson, who had 1,243 rushing yards in 2012 and 2,290 over the last two years.

With the big contract extension for Stafford and the Lions, two truths relating to the Vikings emerged: Contract numbers can be skewed when presented to the public and Peterson still isn't producing buyer's remorse two years after concerns were raised about the level of the Vikings' investment in a running back.

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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