Yotter: Free agency could clarify AP’s place

Free agency is starting to fill holes around the league … and create others. It could also help bring some clarity to the Adrian Peterson situation.

Even as the Minnesota Vikings sit with a favorable salary-cap position and money to spend, they wait, as general manager Rick Spielman said, “laying in the weeds.”

They are taking a disciplined, conservative approach to free agency with the expectation of continuing to build mostly through the draft. Meanwhile, the elephant in the room is Adrian Peterson.

Peterson’s situation with the Vikings remains unresolved, with only one sure thing: the key decision-makers for the Vikings want him back. But does Peterson want to be back with them? No one is saying for sure, but the silence can be deafening.

The Vikings have tried everything they can to convince Peterson to return, sending head coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman to meet with him in Houston last week, and then having Peterson fly to New York on Monday to meet with ownership. Through it all – with another meeting reportedly coming, according to the Pioneer Press – the Vikings and Peterson have said little, which might be the indication that things are far from smoothed over. Zimmer offered only a “nice try” comment to the Pioneer Press when a reporter met him and Spielman at the airport upon their return home from Houston last week and asked them about the possibility of Peterson returning.

If the issues and hard feelings that Peterson had, and probably still has to some degree, are worked through, both parties should say so and offer some reassurance that he will return. They haven’t, which can only lead to the conclusion that nothing has been resolved.

Peterson declined to get into details of his discussions with the Vikings when contacted by ESPN.

“We had a great dialogue and they were able to understand where I was coming from and concerns my family and I still have,” Peterson told ESPN. “We respect each other and hopefully the situation can pan out so that everyone involved is content.”

All of this should leave an uneasy feeling for Vikings fans who want Peterson to return to the team after dealing with child abuse charges (he pleaded no contest to reckless assault) and being unable to play after the season opener last year.

Now, developments around the league at the running back position could open the door for the Vikings to explore trade possibilities, even if he hasn’t strictly requested that.

First and foremost are the Dallas Cowboys, who wanted to re-sign 2014 NFL rushing leader DeMarco Murray to an affordable contract in the range of $6 million. But Murray believes he is worth more and the Philadelphia Eagles are reportedly on brink of taking him there. The $12.75 million salary that Peterson is due in 2015 would probably double what the Cowboys were willing to pay Murray.

Plugged-in Cowboys reporter Mike Fisher of CowboysHQ.com had an interesting tweet that read: “The Cowboys are in possession of a study that shows when ‘standout’ runners turn 28, their yards-per-game production goes down 18 percent … at 29, down 30 percent … at 30, down 45 percent … at 31, down 46 percent … at 32, down 55 percent.”

The question is whether Peterson is an exception to that trend. He has been busting perceptions since his arrival in the NFL, especially with his speedy recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in December 2011 and his rebound for the second-most rushing yards (2,097) in a single season in 2012.

The Cowboys have the money to spend on Peterson, and owner Jerry Jones’ respect for Peterson showed when it was revealed he talked with Peterson last year and told him as much. But having the money and the respect doesn’t necessarily mean the Cowboys are willing to take on Peterson’s full contract, which calls for increasing salaries of $14.75 million in 2016 and $17.75 million in 2017.

The Cowboys are also in a good position to select a running backs like Georgia’s Todd Gurley in the first round of the 2015 draft or Indiana’s Tevin Coleman in the second round.

BucBlitz.com also reported that Tampa Bay would like to trade for Peterson, which would reunite him with former head coach Leslie Frazier. Those two have a lot of respect for each other, as do Zimmer and Peterson.

But the potential trade market, if Peterson forces the Vikings’ hand that way, will still revolve around the money.

Even so, LeSean McCoy’s five-year, $40 million contract shows that there is still an appetite among select teams to spend big bucks on an elite running back. But nobody has been better than Peterson since his arrival in the league in 2007 and his contract still represents that. His $14.55 million average per year is still $4 million-plus above what Marshawn Lynch is getting in his new deal with the Seattle Seahawks, and $5 million or more ahead of Jamaal Charles, Arian Foster and McCoy.

How much is he worth at 30 years old, which he will turn next week? Will anyone be willing to pay what he is scheduled to make with the Vikings? Did his 15 games off in 2014 further motivate or refresh him?

There are plenty of questions that remain unanswered with Peterson’s situation, but as free agency continues to further clarify needs around the league, Peterson’s situation could soon come into focus more than the blurry picture it now paints.

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