The Minnesota Vikings aren’t budging. Adrian Peterson’s side isn’t budging, yet. So what should we make of this standoff between Peterson and the team that currently holds his contract (and says it will continue holding it)?
First things first: Peterson will be a Viking in 2015. From General Manager Rick Spielman to head coach Mike Zimmer, the team has maintained that throughout the past few of months of rumors, some founded in mythology, that they aren’t trading him.
Zimmer’s statement last week was necessary and seemed to both crystallize and cement the situation from the Vikings’ perspective.
“He’s really got two choices: He can play for us or he can not play,” Zimmer said of Peterson. “He’s not going to play for anybody else and that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Even before that public statement in the opening week of organized team activities, Peterson’s camp seemed to accept that reality. But that hasn’t stop the public pandering.
Agent Ben Dogra intimated that earlier, but Peterson’s social media manifesto on Thursday couldn’t be constrained to 140 characters, not even 140 words or even 14 tweets.
Peterson apparently had a lot to get off his chest after being relatively dormant prior to that. Eventually, after a series of confusing tweets that didn’t really spell out his specific issues, Peterson settled on the unguaranteed nature of NFL contracts.
“I know hundreds of player's that wished their team would've HONORED the contract! But instead got threw to the side like like trash,” Peterson tweeted.
“All I'm saying as a Minnesota Viking player! WE need the same power to do as all 32 teams do we they feel, under contract or not!”
The problem is that the players had their chance to hit the owners where it hurt during the collective bargaining negotiations in 2011. Instead, what the NFL Players Association and its player representatives settled on is something none of them are happy with now.
Although the best point of the 2011 CBA is that the top picks in the draft aren’t being paid on the same outrageous level they were prior to ever playing a down at the professional level. QB Sam Bradford was the last of the ridiculous contracts awarded to rookies, with $50 million in guarantees and a maximum value of $86 million over seven seasons. Obviously, now, it is apparent that was a mistake given all his injuries and the lack of success with the St. Louis Rams, who finally moved on without him this offseason.
Base salaries aren’t guaranteed in the NFL, and in Peterson’s case that means none of the final three years of his contract – at $12.75 million, $14.75 million and $16.75 million – are guaranteed. But each year is guaranteed for him and other vested veterans if they are on the roster for the first game of each season, and Peterson had $36 million guaranteed in the seven-year, $97.7 million contract extension he signed in 2011.
“This is not against the Vikings. I am just frustrated that our union did not get guaranteed contracts for its players,” Peterson tweeted, adding, “Owners have the right to release players, at will, without honoring their contracts.
“However, players do not have the luxury of saying that they want out of their contract. And I won't even get into the franchise tag convo.”
Peterson is right that the NBA and other professional sports leagues have far more security in their contracts. But, ultimately, the NFL won the high-priced game of chicken in the summer of 2011 with the players union. It likely would have taken players holding out at least into the preseason, perhaps into the regular, before real change in the form of fully guaranteed contracts would have been discussed seriously at the bargaining table. Even the lowest paid NFL players are the “1 percenters” for income in the United States – according to The Atlantic, a person younger than 32 who makes at least $135,000 annually is a “1 percenter,” in other words any NFL player on a 53-man roster.
Of course, players and the NFLPA would argue they should be for two reasons: the career span is short (averaging about four years) and, well, they are better than the 1 percenters in their profession. As Scout.com pointed out, there were over 70,000 college football players, with 256 getting drafted by the NFL, and only 0.08 percent of all high school players make it to the NFL.
So Peterson is right that NFL contracts don’t compare in security to other leagues. But teams appear more willing to guarantee the contracts of high-round draft picks and some portion of highly sought-after free agents and with the extension of stars on their own teams. In other words, the most valuable players in the league still get some portion of their contracts guaranteed, even beyond their signing bonuses, which they hopefully don’t blow through in short order as they get caught up in the fame and elite lifestyle those afford them.
Ultimately, Peterson is right. But it’s hard for anyone not in the NFL to sympathize with his standing. He has already earned upwards of $50 million since his 2011 extension. And he will make his $12.75 million so long as he shows up on time this year. And if he continues to produce, the Vikings likely won’t ever ask for a paycut on his current contract.
Perhaps Peterson’s frustration lies in the inevitability that at some point before his mind is ready to give up on football, his body will.
“I say this and I’m not saying it just to be saying it. I really feel like I can play until I’m done. I feel like I can be 37, 38 years old and still playing football. People will be like, wow, we’ve never seen anything like this before,” he said during an extensive interview with Viking Update last June.
“I feel like my body would still be able to endure that. I know it sounds crazy, but when it happens you’ll be like, ‘Wow, he wasn’t just BS-ing and sitting there talking. He was serious. He’s actually out here playing and he’s 37 years old and he’s still being productive.’”
Back then, Peterson didn’t want to accept it when he was presented with the possibility that his body would slow down in his late 30s.
“I don’t think so. But I’m listening, go ahead,” he said, interrupting a question that started along those lines.
Peterson has never been one to accept being average, or even the accepted laws of recovery for an ACL injury, and maybe that’s why he has such a hard time accepting status quo with NFL contracts, even if he does own the largest payday for a running back.
His final tweet in his Thursday night barrage was a simple two-hashtag message: “#PlayersUnion #TogetherAchangeWillcome”
This time, however, it’s not Peterson against nature, and it’s bigger than Peterson vs. the Vikings. It’s the NFL against the players union, and the collective bargaining agreement is in force through 2020. That’s three years after his current contract ends, and NFL versus the NFLPA is a matchup that been dominated by the former even more than Peterson has beaten weak-kneed defensive backs in the open field.
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