Free agency fallback options at running back

If the fate of Adrian Peterson’s future was decided in Houston on Wednesday, there are fallback options for the Vikings in free agency, including several former first-rounders that have struggled with injuries.

There is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Adrian Peterson situation. The court system overruled the suspension placed on Peterson, but now the NFL is appealing that decision. While that gets figured out, Peterson has been placed back on the exempt list.

While he is on that list, however, the Minnesota Vikings are able to have open communication with their star running back and the front office has expressed its desire to have Peterson back on the team. Peterson doesn’t necessarily feel the same way, though. In a February interview, Peterson told ESPN that he still feels “uneasy” returning to the Vikings next season.

It isn’t solely up to Peterson if he returns to the Vikings or not because he is still under contract. If he says that he refuses to return to the team, however, it is likely that the Vikings will attempt to trade him. On Wednesday, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer went to Peterson’s home in Texas to try and smooth things over with the running back.

Last year, the Vikings shuffled running backs around after Peterson was put on the commissioner’s exempt list and later suspended. Matt Asiata, Jerick McKinnon, Ben Tate, and Joe Banyard all received time in the Vikings backfield.

In 2014, Asiata scored nine touchdowns but he averaged just 3.5 yards a carry. McKinnon, on the other hand, averaged 4.8 yards a carry but scored no touchdowns, and had his season cut short with a lower back injury. Then Tate and Banyard recorded a combined 126 yards.

The Vikings only had a running back rush for over 100 yards twice – both times coming from McKinnon. That’s why, if things can’t get things figured out with Peterson, it is possible they look at free agency to find a replacement back, despite Zimmer saying they wouldn’t look for a running back in free agency when they were still hoping Peterson could return to the team but hadn’t talked with him. Like most other free-agent positions, the running backs the Vikings look at are likely to be younger and someone with playing experience.

One player that could make sense for the Vikings to target is Ryan Mathews. In 2010, when he was the head coach of the San Diego Chargers, Norv Turner drafted Mathews in the first round. Mathews has had problems staying healthy, but he has shown flashes while on the field. The fact that he has had injury problems could cause him to come at a cheaper price, and at the age of 27 he still has plenty of years to play. In 2014, Mathews recorded 74 attempts for 330 yards and three touchdowns. He also has a career average of 4.4 yards per carry.

Another the player that could be a potential target in free agency is Darren McFadden. At the age of 27, McFadden still has good years left in the NFL, but he never really lived up to the hype surrounding him coming out of college. He was drafted with the No. 4 overall pick in 2008 by the Raiders, and his best season came in 2010 when he recorded 223 carries for 1,157 yards and seven touchdowns. That was the only season of his career he ran for over 1,000 yards. Last season was the first season of his career he played in all 16 games, but he recorded just 155 carries for 534 yards and two carries. The Vikings would likely be able to get McFadden at a reasonable price because of his injury problems and inconsistent play. But those factors could also steer the them away from him.

A third player the Vikings could target in free agency could be another former first-round pick in Knowshon Moreno. His 2014 season was cut short by injuries and he was only able to play in three games. In those three games he recorded 31 carries for 148 yards and a touchdown. At the age of 27, Moreno still has multiple years left to play in the NFL, and if he is able to stay healthy he can be a dangerous player. The last season he was able to stay healthy was 2013, when he rushed for 1,038 yards and 10 touchdowns. If his injury is fully healed, he could be a good pickup for any team that gets him.

Like the aforementioned players, C.J. Spiller is a former first-round draft pick who may not have lived up to expectations. Part of the reason for that is because of his inability to stay healthy. Spiller is 27 years old and was told by the Buffalo Bills that he would not be re-signed, so he is available for all teams when free agency opens on Tuesday. In 2014, Spiller played in just nine games and recorded 78 carries for 300 yards. He has only stayed healthy for all 16 games twice in his career, but he is averaging 5.0 yards a carry. Along with making an impact in the running game, Spiller also has the ability to make an impact as a returner on special teams.

At this point in time, it is unclear if Peterson will join the Vikings again in 2015. If things cannot get sorted out with the All-Pro, though, it is possible that the Vikings look to free agency to fill the hole left at running back. Of course, these are not all the players the Vikings have to choose from, but they are four candidates that seem to posses what the Vikings look for – a player still in his prime that has starting experience, but one who also might come at a cheaper price for one reason or another.

FREE AGENCY POSITIONAL PREVIEWS

Still to come: Quarterback | Running back | Wide receiver |
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