Holler: New precedent set with Peterson

After trading away Randy Moss and Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson was too valuable a superstar to let go.

Vikings fans were hopeful that the Adrian Peterson situation would resolve itself eventually. Admittedly, most thought the first drop-dead date would be the mandatory minicamp, the first time players under contract are required to attend offseason programs.

But now that it appears that the Vikings and Peterson have mended their fences, we can look at the situation with the benefit of hindsight.

How an organization reacts to a crisis is what tends to define it. If a team caves when a player holds out, it has a tendency to repeat itself. Given the volatile nature of contracts, when it’s clear that a player has “out-performed” his contract – Russell Wilson comes immediately to mind – smart organizations settle contracts before a potential beef drives a wedge in between star players and the vision of the open market on the horizon.

When a player holds leverage over an organization, bad things happen for the team. Many would agree that, given the non-guaranteed nature of NFL contracts, players have the right to ask for and receive as much guaranteed money as possible because a career can end in the blink of an eye when the bad hit they all fear arrives. But, almost from the start, A.P. didn’t have the leverage he thought he had.

The only reason he and the Vikings had their impasse to begin with was the result of a mistake Peterson made in disciplining a son – the definition of “mistake” will continue to be a subject of debate with fans. To complicate matters, because Peterson was placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, he continued to draw checks for all but the final six games as if he had carried the ball 25 times every week. Was it punishment? Yes. But it’s a hard sell when you’re cashing full game checks for not playing.

From the time that Peterson went on the exempt list, the powers that be that wear $1,000 suits had a decision to make: How do we handle the Peterson situation? It’s rare when the face of a franchise finds himself in a position where the potential exists that sponsors and fans alike will turn their backs on him.

That was the dilemma that existed on the upper floor of Winter Park.

The Vikings had to make a difficult decision. Do you cut Peterson and get nothing in return for a franchise player? Do you trade him like they did with Randy Moss and Percy Harvin? They got first-round picks for both of them and there was a prevailing opinion that a 30-year-old running back in 2015 – regardless of how talented he is – simply wasn’t worth a first-round bargaining chip as compensation.

In the end, the Vikings made the corporate decision that they held all the cards. It took Mike Zimmer, by all accounts the strongest supporter of Peterson, to deliver the glove slap that was going to set the future in motion – either A.P. plays for the Vikings under the most lucrative contract for a running back in NFL history or he just doesn’t play.

From the organizational side, the Vikings steadfastly maintained the party line that Peterson was under contract and, as far as they were concerned, he was expected to show up and cash those weekly high-six-figure checks.

We may never know if the Vikings were entertaining offers on draft weekend. According to every single public statement made, not only weren’t they listening to offers, they objected to the assertion that they might be. They held the party line because that is what the Vikings organization does.

The hard line on Peterson could be explained away as he could consider the $8 million he received while on the exempt list as his guaranteed money. But it went a little deeper than that.

There is going to be new precedent for the next organizational decision to be made concerning a star player who is at odds with the powers that be. It happened with Moss and he was gone – for the fifth overall pick. It happened with Harvin and he was gone – a mid-season move for Seattle’s first-round pick the following year. It happened with Peterson and the Vikings held fast.

They know what Peterson is capable of and, if he has the kind of season they are envisioning, they will gladly continue to cut checks his way – even when the price of playing goes up in the final two years of his deal. They’ve done it before (see Jared Allen).

In the end, the Vikings made the organizational move that they needed to. Had they caved, they would have set a precedent. The next disgruntled player who thinks he deserves more money could use that precedent (or his agent could) to set up an ugly impasse that wouldn’t have any winners involved. Bad blood would follow and it would become what in NFL terms is viewed as “a distraction” – which, despite having 11 letters, is a four-letter word in the NFL.

Whether you agreed with their stance or not, what the Vikings did kept the organization whole. There aren’t any splinters in the wood of the Vikings ship. If they can play hardball with A.P., they can play hardball with anybody.

Shed no tears for A.P. He’s on the good side of an onerous contract that, as long as he continues to be A.P., will be enough to honor the signing of the checks while he honors the contract.

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