Re-acclimation of Peterson starts for Vikings

Adrian Peterson returned to his teammates Tuesday – some familiar, others not – as the star running back immerses himself back into football life. He and the Vikings are ready to move forward after a nine-month absence, both sides said.

Adrian Peterson returned Tuesday to a supportive group of Minnesota Vikings teammates and coaches, the first time that 2012 NFL MVP has been on the practice fields at Winter Park since September last year.

There was no bigger supporter of him than head coach Mike Zimmer, who backed Peterson throughout his nine-month absence while he dealt with an indictment in Texas that was eventually reduced to a plea of no contest for misdemeanor reckless assault after using a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son.

“It’s great to have Adrian back here working out with us again today. He’s got such a charismatic smile, infectious personality,” Zimmer said. “It’s good to get him here with the rest of the guys, with the rest of the players. We welcome him with open arms, unequivocally.”

Zimmer vouched for Peterson’s character, as well his ability to change what the Vikings can do on offense.

“I know the kind of person that he is,” Zimmer said. “I know what’s in his heart and I know what kind of person he is.”

Peterson and Zimmer talked after Zimmer made a comment last week that Peterson could play for the Vikings or no one. Both said they expressed their opinions to each other “fairly openly,” but it was Peterson’s decision to return to the team this week after skipping the voluntary organized team activities last week because of what he called prior obligations.

His presence on Tuesday meant all 89 players attended the practice, according to the team. It was the first time since September that Peterson stepped on a practice field.

“There’s a lot of faces I don’t know. But the guys that know me, they addressed me and I addressed them. It was family,” Peterson said. “It was different because I haven’t been in the building for a long time, but the love was there. Anyone who greeted me, or I greeted, was with a hug and pat on the head, cracking jokes and things like that. It was pretty smooth, actually.”

Zimmer said players were hugging Peterson upon his return to the field Tuesday. Members of the front office did the same. As Peterson wrapped up nearly 20 minutes of questioning from the media, he walked away from the podium, stepped down from the riser and embraced general manager Rick Spielman. The two exited the media area in a team meeting room arm in arm.

Zimmer said the Vikings had no conversations about trading Peterson, a stance that team officials advanced throughout the offseason process, even as Peterson’s agent said he might be better off playing for another team or insinuating that Peterson should have more guaranteed money.

Peterson is due base salaries of $12.75 million in 2015, $14.75 million in 2016 and $17.75 million in 2017 and has $250,000 offseason workout bonuses for each of those years. However, his salary-cap hit to the Vikings actually decreases from $15.4 million in 2015 to $15 million in 2016 because this is the final year that $2.4 million in prorated singing bonus is counted against the Vikings’ cap.

Throughout the offseason, Peterson has made it clear his dissatisfaction with the team wasn’t with the coaching staff or teammates, but with the way the Vikings handled his situation last year, agreeing to have him placed on the exempt list and therefore not play while he dealt with his legal issues.

Zimmer said he would stay out of contractual issues, but added, “I’ll always fight for my players.”

From December on, Peterson occasionally intimated that he had considered retirement or other options as he saw criticism of him surface in Minnesota and beyond.

“With everything going on in my life at that time, I really didn’t know what I wanted,” Peterson said. “I really didn’t know if I wanted to play somewhere else, if I wanted to retire, I didn’t know if I wanted to get into track and do something different. That’s where receiving advice from my parents, my advisers really played a big role.”

And now?

“I’m happy with where I’m at here with the Minnesota Vikings. I love the coaching staff,” he said. “I’ve said it before, but I feel like this is the best coaching staff we’ve seen since I’ve been here. I like what they present. We have a young team, hungry team, excellent young quarterback who has a year under his belt now and we have a lot of talent. We can accomplish great things.”

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