Since he was drafted in 2007, Adrian Peterson has been the face of the franchise. The only time that was even remotely threatened was when Brett Favre blew into town in 2009.
The two of them combined to lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game that season, and then combined to throw away and fumble away their chances (along with some questionable hits by the New Orleans Saints that led to the Bountygate investigation).
Favre has been long gone, leaving the franchise still without an unquestioned starter at the position since 2011, the year they brought in the abysmal failure that was Donovan McNabb's final season and Christian Ponder's first season.
Peterson, however, remains the face of the franchise, a dying dynamic for his position around the league. He came into the league when LaDainian Tomlinson was the best back around, quickly challenged that notion and has held off all challengers over the years. Chris Johnson challenge and faded and it could be argued LeSean McCoy is the next Tomlinson – as much of a dual threat in 2013 as L.T. was in his prime.
But with three surgeries in the last three offseasons, it's legitimate to wonder if the compilation of carnage is beginning to take its toll on Peterson. However, the most laughable headlines of the past week were breathless wonderments quoting general manager Rick Spielman saying "Adrian is not going anywhere."
Puh-leaze. Was there ever really a doubt about that?
"We have him under contract. He's the face of our franchise," Spielman told Pro Football Talk. "He is a blue-chip player. And we have a new coaching staff in place, and (the Vikings are) very excited about what's coming ahead for us."
Question all you want some of the selections the Vikings have made in recent drafts, including Ponder, but they aren't complete dolts. They know a good thing when it's in their presence and Peterson isn't only a good thing, he's a game-changer, on the field and off.
As quick as Peterson is to change directions, he is just as patient with his public assessments. He almost never questions the coaching staff, even if it would be completely legitimate and understandable to do so. With a million-dollar smile and multi-million body, Peterson is the best thing the Vikings have going and they would be straight idiots to trade him now.
He is worth more to them than other teams because they don't have that franchise quarterback, and trading his $14 million cap number in 2014 doesn't guarantee anything better will arrive at the quarterback position. They would have more money to spend on a quarterback, but franchise quarterbacks without risk don't often come available. It's not an either-or proposition. Right now, he's the only superstar on offense and an incredible example of unwavering work ethic for younger players.
The other side of the coin is which team would be willing to stake his salaries for the next three years? To them, he would be a rent-a-mercenary, much like Favre was to the Vikings in 2009. It nearly worked there, but after the crash-and-burn in 2010 it left the Vikings with an aging roster.
Peterson also has his mounting injury history. The adductor surgery he had on Thursday may have been related to the sport hernia surgery he following the 2012 season. And then there was the big one – the anterior cruciate and medial collateral reconstruction – he had following the 2011 season.
He rebounded from that to nearly break the NFL's single-season rushing mark with 2,097 yards, four short of the record. Last year, despite missing two games and being limited in at least two more with groin and foot injuries, he rushed for 1,266 yards.
Is that a sign of a slow breakdown of one of the most talented running backs in NFL history or a blip on the radar? The Vikings will have to determine that, but it would take a bountiful haul to get them to even consider trading Peterson unless he goes against character and starts pushing to get away from a team that has one winning season in the last four.
The injury history is building and the annual salaries slowly escalating – with cap numbers of $14.4 million, $15.4 million, $15 million and $17 million over the last four years of contract. The Vikings also have two more years of his prorated bonus counting against the cap and then could cut ties without a financial penalty after that.
Most running backs aren't close to being worth $15 million a year. At this point, Peterson still is. Because of his immense talent. Because of his unmatched desire. And because of his face-of-the-franchise stature. This time, you can believe the Vikings when they say they aren't trading Peterson, at least not in the next year.
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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