Sunday slant: Peterson’s road to repair

All the legal entanglements with Adrian Peterson has created frustration on both sides, but there is a way to repair the damage that has been done.

After a Thursday of rulings, statements and appeals, what has really changed with Adrian Peterson?

The answer is two-fold for the Minnesota Vikings star running back: Plenty, and, yet, not a lot.

After federal judge David Doty ruled that the NFL couldn’t apply the rules of its new personal conduct policy to Peterson’s incident in disciplining his child in May, there was a flurry of activity. The NFL Players Association, of course, supported the ruling while the NFL, of course, is appealing it. The whole process has been a hot mess, as the Vikings scrambled early in the season trying to pacify their fans, sponsors, Peterson and the league, or as they said repeatedly then, “trying to get it right.”

But the Vikings lost control of the situation early, and took themselves out of the decision-making process when they placed Peterson on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, handing control of the situation over to the NFL, with Commissioner Roger Goodell looking to prove a point and flex his muscle in the wake of staunch criticism following his botched handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse case.

Obviously, Peterson still has issues with the way the team handled the situation, and his statement on late Friday only added to that thinking after his suspension was overturned and the NFL appealed that ruling.

“I was pleased to learn of Judge Doty’s decision,” Peterson said of Judge David Doty’s overturned suspension.

“It is a positive step in protecting players’ rights and preserving due process for all players. It also brings me one step closer to getting back on the football field and playing the sport I love. As I prepare for my return to football, I am still focused on my family and continue to work to become a better father every day. I want to express my gratitude for all of the support I have received from the fans, the NFLPA, (attorney) Jeffrey Kessler and my agents, Ben Dogra, Tracy Lartigue and Mark Heligman from Relativity Sports.”

Not one mention of thanking the Vikings. On one hand, that’s understandable. The Vikings didn’t keep Peterson on the active roster while due process played out like the San Francisco 49ers did with Ray McDonald, keeping him on the roster for most of the season. However, the Vikings continued to pay Peterson his $11.75 million salary until he was eventually suspended for six games. The total amount of his lost salary will depend on the final rulings for the length of his suspension, but that’s not something the Vikings control.

While Peterson said Thursday’s ruling puts him “one step closer to getting back on the football field and playing the sport I love,” it might actually take him longer than if he had ridden out his suspension until April 15. The NFL’s appeal might not be heard until after the draft, and now that he’s back on the exempt list he might not be able to get back on the practice field until training camp.

No doubt the process has been frustrating for Peterson, the ultimate competitor, but the Vikings were put in a tough spot early in the season when fan and sponsorship pushback created a pressurized environment. Some Vikings officials were fully expecting Peterson would be able to play late in the season after he pleaded no contest to reckless assault. In fact, they were almost giddy over the prospect of this return, something Peterson should have witnessed himself if he truly believes there were a lot in the front office that didn’t want to see his return. Instead, Goodell saw Peterson’s plea of “no contest” as the opportunity to impose a suspension, apparently deciding that three months on the sidelines wasn’t enough punishment for a misdemeanor.

As I wrote last fall, Peterson is the pawn in a high-stakes game of legalese and bad blood between the NFL Players Association and the league. But it was also his own actions with the disciplining of his son that put him in that position.

Fortunately for him and the Vikings, this time around he will be allowed to speak to the front office and coaching staff. While he obviously feels some resentment toward new Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren, other members of the organization, like general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, have voiced their public support of Peterson’s return. The fan base is becoming more split as the process drags on and Peterson voices his frustration with the Vikings more often.

So what happens from here?

There is still the sticky issue of Peterson’s contract, and if he doesn’t want to return to the Vikings, it seems unlikely another team will be willing to pay him any more than the $12.75 million salary he is scheduled to make in 2015, which is already about $3 million more than any other running back.

But if the salary isn’t an issue on either side, the best hope for the Vikings is that a series of talks between Zimmer and Peterson brings a resolution. The two have plenty of mutual respect and that’s at least a great starting point for healing ground.

If he returns to the Vikings, he won’t have to deal with Warren much. It will be Zimmer, running backs coach Kirby Wilson and the highly respected offensive coordinator, Norv Turner, dealing with Peterson on a daily basis.

Zimmer has already said the Vikings aren’t going to look for a running back in free agency, and legal entanglements aside, the Vikings will have to start looking for a replacement back in the coming years in the draft anyway. The fact that this is a good draft for running back depth only makes sense that the Vikings would do it this year.

Peterson might view that as another shot against him, but he shouldn’t. No back is going to threaten his star status as long as he’s on the team and he should know that.

The first step is smoothing the rough waters of the past six months, and that starts with a meeting between Zimmer and Peterson.

“I haven’t changed any from my support of Adrian since he got suspended,” Zimmer said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “It’s still important for me that Adrian does all the things he’s supposed to do as far as the things mandated by the league, but also him becoming a better person in that aspect. All the other things, in my opinion he’s pretty darn good person. As I’ve said before, we all mistakes and he made one and he’s admitted to it and we go from there. I’m hopeful that he’s back with us; I think that people will realize that and remember all the good things that he’s done throughout his career and not just on the football field either.”

Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, can make all the statements he wants about Peterson’s future with the Vikings, but the road to repair starts with a meeting between Peterson and Zimmer, and then likely many more.

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