Mike Zimmer didn’t have any clear answers regarding Adrian Peterson’s future with the Minnesota Vikings, other than the head coach continuing to reiterate as he has throughout the season that he is “in (Peterson’s) corner.”
Zimmer only got the opportunity to have the Vikings’ star running back with on his team for the season opener in 2014, and it was a game that Zimmer referred to more than three months later as one of the best games for a team that finished 7-9.
Now, after Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges in September, pleaded to a lesser charge in November and was suspended by the NFL until “at least” April 15 in December, the Vikings are left to wonder not only what might have been in 2014 if Peterson was available to them, but what will happen with Peterson over the coming months.
“Our hands our partly tied with the NFL and the timeframe that they give us,” Zimmer said on Tuesday as he reflected on his first season as a head coach. “But also it’s partly up to Adrian and make sure he’s doing what he has to do in order to get back reinstated off the suspension.”
Peterson was suspended for the final three games of 2014 and the first three games of 2015 after spending most of the season on the Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list. He has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the league for that suspension, but while the Vikings work through their player evaluations in the coming weeks, they are faced with the uncertain future of the player who was the faceplate of the franchise since being a first-round draft choice in 2007.
Zimmer said he would like to know soon about Peterson’s standing with the league, but that declaration likely will have to wait until his case is heard in court.
“We would love to know ASAP just so that we can start going, because a guy like him, your football team and your offense can be different (if) you have him and you don’t have him,” Zimmer said. “It’s how you want to build the team around him.”
Of course, the decision with Peterson’s future in purple goes beyond Zimmer wanting him back or not. There are public perceptions to consider that will be weighed by the front office and ownership. There are salary-cap implications that will be bandied about by general manager Rick Spielman and vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski.
But Zimmer knows how he feels about Peterson.
“As I’ve said many, many times, Adrian was always great with me,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s a good person. I think obviously he’s a great running back and if it works out that way and things work out and he gets his life in order – that’s the most important thing, he gets his life in order, he gets the opportunity to come back – then I will be in his corner whatever the decision is made.
“I think he would add value to any team, to be honest with you. I think the kid’s a heck of a football player.”
The only impression Peterson was able to create in game situations during the first year of Norv Turner’s offense in Minnesota was during the season opener, when he rushed 21 times for 75 yards. Ironically, his performance there was fresh in Zimmer’s mind on Tuesday as he had started to review the offense from the beginning of the season.
During the season, coaches tried to downplay the effect of Peterson’s loss on the offense and the running game. Still, after six seasons of Peterson rushing for more than 1,200 yards in years in which he played at least 15 games, no Vikings running back rushed for even half that in 2014.
Matt Asiata finished as the team leader with 570 yards while averaging 3.5 yards per carry. Rookie Jerick McKinnon had 538 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry before he was lost for the season with a low back injury. Over the course of his career with the Vikings, Peterson has averaged 5.0 yards per carry and had only missed nine games in his previous seven years.
Both for durability and production, there is little question his absence affected the Vikings in 2014.
“(The offense) changed quite a bit,” Zimmer admitted Tuesday. “… But we’re not making excuses about that stuff. It happens to every team in the league. Guys get hurt, you know, and they get lost for the season. So you hope that those things never happen, but it does each and every week in the NFL. And as I said before it’s really a survival of the fittest, and the toughest, physical teams and mentally tough teams usually find a way to get it done.”
The Vikings’ 2014 season will be remembered for many things. They were a forgettable 7-9, but Teddy Bridgewater emerged as their quarterback of the present and future, and it was Zimmer’s first season as a head coach. The biggest question of their offseason will be if 2014 was also Peterson’s last with the team.
Zimmer ponders the Peterson questions
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