Still, the legal battle isn’t over. The NFL plans to appeal the ruling, further muddying the waters on when and if Peterson will return to the Vikings. The team remains openly supportive of him.
“Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization,” the Vikings said in a statement. “Today’s ruling leaves Adrian’s status under the control of the NFL, the NFLPA and the legal system, and we will have no further comment at this time.”
While the process continues to play out, Peterson will go back on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, but will be allowed to at least communicate with Vikings officials this time.
Peterson and the NFLPA took the NFL to court on Feb. 6 to appeal Peterson’s six-game suspension, handed down by the NFL in December.
“This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness,” the NFLPA said in a statement before the NFL appealed Thursday’s ruling. “Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players’ rights. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”
The NFLPA argued that Peterson’s six-game suspension after pleading no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault shouldn’t have been applied under the new rules of the NFL’s domestic violence policy, issued in August, because Peterson’s discipline of his 4-year-old son took place in May. The union said the punishment to Peterson was unfairly and retroactively applied.
The overturned suspension put the case back in the hands of arbitrator Harold Henderson, but the court’s ruling made it clear it didn’t agree with Peterson being punished under the new personal conduct policy.
Peterson was hoping to have the issue resolved before March 10, the start of free agency and the first time that players can be traded. Peterson told ESPN two weeks ago that he was “uneasy” about a return to the Vikings, but he hasn’t ruled that out despite tension between his agent and some members of the Vikings front office.
He is scheduled to make a $12.75 million salary in 2015, but Peterson has said he doesn’t feel all members of the Vikings’ front office were squarely behind him during the 2014 season, when the team allowed him to be placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List before his suspension was issued following his plea agreement.
At least this time Peterson will be allowed to have contact with head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman, both of whom have expressed their support for his return to the Vikings. They weren’t able to talk with Peterson while he was under suspension.
NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler accused Henderson, a former league executive, of being biased and straying from the collective bargaining agreement in his ruling on the appeal with “his own brand of industrial justice.”
Judge Doty agreed with Kessler’s second point and therefore didn’t rule on his first point.
“Henderson simply disregarded the law of the shop and in doing so failed to meet his duty under the CBA,” Doty wrote in his decision, later adding: “Henderson strayed beyond the issue submitted by the NFLPA and in doing so exceeded his authority.”
Another point Kessler made to Doty was that the NFL did not have the right to mandate Peterson participate in the league’s assigned counseling per the terms of the punishment that Goodell laid out. Peterson and the NFLPA have said he’s seeing a psychologist they picked, to discuss parenting and more appropriate methods of disciplining his children.
“The CBA doesn’t give the NFL that authority,” Kessler said.
The league’s appeal of Thursday’s ruling could leave Peterson’s status in doubt until after the draft.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
VIKINGS GM RICK SPIELMAN AT THE COMBINE