Holler: Shades of gray surround A.P. decision

There is no easy answer with Adrian Peterson’s potential return. With the league, Vikings and sponsors to consider, the options are many.

The current limbo that Adrian Peterson is in is a little more complicated than it may seem from the surface. There are a lot of spinning plates going at once that need to all stay in place without breaking for there to be a speedy and just resolution to the Peterson saga.

When the photos that became the centerpiece of the case against Peterson surfaced, there was a visceral outrage among most who saw the photos. Hearing someone “whipped his kid” is one thing. Seeing is believing and, at that moment, a lot of people made up their minds.

After deactivating Peterson for the Week 2 game against New England, the Vikings announced Peterson would be reactivated because there shouldn’t be a rush to judgment on his legal right of being presumed innocent. After the visual proof so many saw of the aftermath, the presumption of innocence was up to heightened debate.

Corporate sponsors distanced themselves so as not to get short-term stink on them. Fans expressed their outrage. Politicians got involved, using the pre-election opportunity to grind their axes about the stadium deal. There isn’t just one decision that needs to be made, there are multiple.

At issue is this: To what extent has Peterson paid for the crime he was charged? He’s missed eight games on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, but he has been paid throughout the process – to the tune of about $5.5 million. He hasn’t faced any punitive action from the league … yet.

Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league office are formulating what sort of punishment the NFL should impose. When the league denied Peterson’s petition for immediate reinstatement, it was left vague as to when his reinstatement would or will be granted. There isn’t a simple “yes” or “no” to the petition. There are options.

The league could deny Peterson’s petition and keep him on the exempt list, but that isn’t likely given that the placement of Peterson on the list was done as a measure until his legal proceedings concluded. That’s done now, so keeping him on the exempt list much longer seems to go against the spirit of why he was placed on it in the first place.

The league could also make Peterson subject to penalty under the personal conduct policy, which potentially could add four more games to his suspension. While he has missed half of the 2014 season, he hasn’t been subject to punishment under the league’s policy on personal conduct.

There may be an alternate solution. Peterson could be hit with a four-game suspension without pay and have the games themselves dealt with as time served on the commissioner’s list, essentially having Peterson surrender four game checks. That is an option that may be more likely – handing down a punitive penalty while allowing Peterson to return.

The other significant question that hasn’t been asked is how badly does the Vikings front office want Peterson back? The Vikings brand took a major hit when the Peterson story broke. Corporate sponsors pulled out. Peterson lost endorsement deals. Even charity causes backed away from Peterson and the Vikings.

There is the possibility that the Vikings may decide to back away from Peterson completely and move on without him, despite him being the face of the franchise and its best player. There is a portion of the Vikings fan base that has no interest in sticking with Peterson. While a lot of fans would be outraged if the Vikings parted ways with him, it is a possibility that hasn’t been discussed much publicly. That move seems like a long shot, however, as most appear ready to welcome him back.

Don’t be surprised to see the wheels turning quickly in the next few days. If the league is going to find a way to impose a punishment under the personal conduct policy while letting Peterson play, that decision would likely have to come before next Wednesday, when the Vikings start preparing in earnest for the Chicago Bears. Given that Peterson’s legal problems were plea bargained during the team’s bye week gives the NFL additional time to, if nothing else, give the impression that it conducting its own new investigation before handing down a ruling.

As of right now, Peterson’s professional career remains in limbo. There is likely going to be a decision rendered in the coming days, but it isn’t a simple black or white option. There are a lot of shades of gray that could potentially get involved in the decision and we’ll just have to wait and see which option becomes the option of choice for the league, the Vikings and Peterson.

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