Peterson has kept himself in phenomenal shape, but, after crossing the age of 31, it may not be the game wear and tear that brings an end to Peterson’s career. It may well be the mental strain he goes through in between seasons that finishes his career.
In an interview with ESPN, Peterson said that the bigger issue for his career longevity may well be tied more into the offseason preparation needed to play a season that perhaps will be the determining factor if he stays in the game long enough to break Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing record.
Peterson, who is still 6,681 yards behind Smith, told ESPN that his biggest concern is the drain the offseason program takes on his body more than the pounding he takes on Sundays.
"That's it," Peterson said. "Training camp, going through the grind, OTAs and all that -- that will definitely be the deciding factor. Physically, body-wise, I'll be good. It's just mentally – like with OTAs, I'm out there practicing, I'm going, I'm putting in work. But it's so repetitive that it's more suited toward the young guys and getting them into the system. It gets kind of boring."
Peterson harkened back to when he was coming off ACL surgery in 2012. He spent his entire offseason working on his own to rehab the injury. He didn’t go through OTAs. He wasn’t a full participant in practices or the preseason.
Yet, when the bell rang for the 2012 season, despite being held on a pitch count the first three games of the season, not only did Peterson astound the medical profession, he came within 8 yards of breaking the all-time single-season rushing record set almost 30 years year earlier by Eric Dickerson.
The takeaway Peterson had from that experience was that he was able to rehab his body into peak football playing shape without the drudgery and repetition of training camp.
"Think about this,” Peterson said “The 2012 season, I didn't do any training camp. But I was over there on the side, working out. You get that extra month of working out? Come on, man. I would much rather not participate in training camp and work out, just to have more of an edge. Training camp, you're going out there, you're playing football, you're going to lift, and after that, you don't want to do anything. You're tired, from meetings and all that."
Another contributing factor that has played into Peterson’s feeling about the necessity for him to be a training camp/preseason participant is the time he spent away from the game in 2014 when he had to sit out 15 games on the commissioner’s exempt list after being brought up on child abuse charges for disciplining one of his children. Sitting out allowed him for the first time in his professional career to spend much more time with his children – something he also feels he has missed out on as a professional athlete.
With five children, Peterson said the quality time spent with them as they grow up could also be a reason to eventually walk away from the game sooner than perhaps he wants to. He knows he has a shelf life as a player, even if his goals at times seem unrealistic, but his suspension brought home the fact that he also misses a lot of time with his family and watching his children grow up.
For now, he is in the prime of his earning power in his chosen profession – a window that won’t stay open for long. He sees the parenting window in much the same way. He still has time to be a full-time dad and that might be enough to prompt his exit from the NFL quicker than he would prefer.
"All that could be a deciding factor for me, too," Peterson said. "The kids and all that, that plays a role, because I love spending time with my kids, and they're getting older now. We'll see how things play out. I think you just have to wait for that time to come, and it will feel right or it will feel wrong. Right now, it feels good. It feels right (to continue playing)."
Whether Peterson’s comments are merely a veteran ploy to get out of the drudgery of the offseason and training camp or a legitimate belief that, in his case, they do little in the way of preparing him for the grind of a 16-game regular season and beyond is, like many things Peterson-related, in the eye of the beholder. But, unlike Brett Favre, who would often threaten retirement because of the offseason grind required to get to the next year and didn't take part in either training camp or preseason he spent with the Vikings, A.P. may be a little more serious in his decision-making process about potentially walking away from the game.