Sunday slant: Will Peterson give back?

Having Adrian Peterson on the Vikings makes them a better product, but will the star running back who gave so much be willing to give something back to the team that supported him over the last six months?

Having Adrian Peterson on the Vikings makes them a better product, but will the star running back who gave so much be willing to give something back to the team that supported him over the last six months?

Adrian Peterson has given everything he has to the Minnesota Vikings. The question now is whether he will have to give something back.

Since Peterson became the Vikings’ first-round draft choice in 2007, he has given every ounce of effort that could be expected from a player. His work ethic has become legendary, and it’s a well-earned reputation. When overcoming December 2011 ACL surgery, his offseason workouts in 2012 were so impressive that the Vikings opened one of them to the media to show just how much progress he had made and debunk any doubts that he might not fully recover.

In retrospect, Peterson made those that questioned if he would ever return to his old form look silly. He rebounded to have the second-most yardage of any running back in any season in NFL history – 2,097 yards of sheer determination on an average team.

But that’s what Peterson has been doing his whole life – hearing the occasional criticism and using it to motivate him. Some wondered if his broken collarbone in his final season at Oklahoma would hurt his draft status. If it did, the Vikings have been thankful for it ever since.

The only year he might not have been the ultimate face of franchise was in 2009, when Brett Favre joined the Vikings to give them their first legitimate star quarterback during the Peterson era. Between Peterson and Favre, they led what had been a struggling offense to the NFC Championship Game, where mistakes by both of them compiled and led to a loss in the Superdome.

But effort was never a question with Peterson. And, despite having the highest salary of any running back, few questioned whether it was worth the investment for the Vikings.

Until now.

As he continues to fight for his reinstatement into the NFL, a battle waged on his behalf by the NFL Players Association, his support is starting to line up for his return to purple, a few months removed from a time when that possibility looked bleak.

Head coach Mike Zimmer remained steadfast in his support of what Peterson’s talent and leadership meant to the Vikings in the nine months they worked together before Peterson’s legal issues stemming from child abuse charges in Texas took him away from the team. General manager Rick Spielman voiced his support for Peterson in January. And now in the last week the two most important figures in Minnesota’s backing for his return weighed in. Vikings owner and president Mark Wilf said he wants Peterson back, and newly promoted Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said he, too, supported Peterson’s return to the Vikings if he satisfies the NFL’s concerns and is reinstated by the league.

But it might not be that simple. No one involved in the situation has yet registered their opinion on whether his return would require a salary reduction.

Peterson’s total contract value of $86.28 million is nearly double that of any other running back and he has three more years on it, with base salaries of $12.75 million in 2015, $14.75 million in 2016 and $17.75 million in 2017; and salary-cap charges of $15.4 million, $15 million and $18 million, respectively.

His cap charge in 2015 is nearly $3.5 million more than any other back in the league and $6 million more than any other back besides Philadelphia’s LeSean McCoy. In successive years, his salary is almost $5.5 million more than any other back in 2016, and almost $9 million more than any other back in the final year of his deal, 2017.

Even if he wasn’t dealing with legal troubles this offseason, his cap number would be troubling in a league where passers are much more highly valued these days than runners. It’s not that the Vikings can’t handle his salary – after all, they have Teddy Bridgewater under on his rookie contract through 2017 at an extremely affordable total value of less than $7 million over the life of that deal.

However, Peterson should be willing to concede that the Vikings showed an enormous amount of support for him while he was forced off the field for all but one game. They took a severe public relations hit when they initially decided to bring him back after one week of deactivation before backtracking following pushback from sponsors and the public. The organizational hit was financial, too. They continued to pay his $11.75 million salary at a pace of $691,000 per week while he was away from the team and, although some of that will be paid back with his suspension, it could be the impetus for Peterson to do what is right – repay the organization that stood by him despite criticism by showing a willingness to renegotiate his contract.

Will that happen? Peterson told ESPN in December that he didn’t think he should have to take a pay cut in 2015. But, realistically, will any team be willing to pay $35 million over the next three years for a running back who will turn 30 next month?

That seems remote, and even Emmitt Smith, the league’s all-time leading rusher, said being in his 30s made a difference in his effectiveness.

“It does, but to each their own,” Smith said. “Everybody’s different and Adrian’s proven to be a different kind of back because I’ve never seen anybody bounce back from a knee injury the way he did, so there’s no telling. He had a whole year off. Ain’t no telling if that year gave his body a chance to heal up some more and get better and stay hungry.”

Having Peterson on the Vikings just makes games more entertaining to watch and, of course, gives them a better chance to win. His legal issues will likely be behind him soon, and the Vikings will have a better product with him than without him, but he might have to be willing to give something back to the team that supported him through one of the most difficult times in his life to give himself an opportunity to retire as a Viking.

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