With 10 players on reserve lists, including eight on injured reserve, the Minnesota Vikings are doing their best not to feel sorry for themselves and hoping the bye week helps refresh the 53 players on the active roster.
But once Thanksgiving rolls around, the Vikings will have a decision to make. With the new rule this year that a team doesn’t have to designate which one of its players on injured reserve can return, they will have plenty of options. Not all will be healthy, realistic options, but the one starter on injured reserve that seems most likely to return would be Adrian Peterson.
Left tackle Matt Kalil’s hip surgery would seem to be season-ending. The same goes for right tackle Andre Smith’s triceps surgery, performed earlier this week, and we certainly know that Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury was horrific enough to keep him until next summer at best.
Peterson’s surgery, however, wasn’t as drastic as most of the other starters on injured reserve.
During about a half hour roundtable talk with reporters earlier this week, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman initially categorized Peterson’s return as “potential.”
“That’s all stuff down the road,” Spielman said. “Once those guys go on the IR list, they’re dead cards for eight weeks, and then we just have to re-evaluate where we’re at, with all the guys.”
However, later in the conversation, when asked about Peterson’s contract next year, Spielman sounded more convincing about Peterson being able to return before the end of the 2016 season.
“I look at it as he’s going to do everything he can to get back,” Spielman said. “I look at it also as that’s at least eight, nine weeks of not taking hits on that body, which is going to make him pretty fresh.”
Peterson went on injured reserve on Sept. 23, just two days before the Vikings played their Week 3 game against the Carolina Panthers. That started the clock ticking on his potential return. While that could potentially allow him to return before the Nov. 20 game against the Arizona Cardinals, it seem more likely that he could return sometime after that.
The question then would be how to incorporate him back into the offense.
While the Vikings’ running game is still ranked last in the NFL, it has looked better at times in the last two weeks than it did early in the season. Quarterback Sam Bradford admitted that the offense has evolved and adjusted without Peterson, going more with three receivers. It has also become more of a pass-first offense.
Peterson averaged just 1.6 yards per carry before his Week 2 injury.
“Adrian was kind of getting back into it,” Spielman said. “I think because we had adjusted some things offensively and our offensive line I think was still trying to jell early. When he played those first couple games … usually Adrian becomes stronger as the season goes and goes stronger as the games progress.”
That really wasn’t the case last year. He had just one 100-yard rushing game (104 against the New York Giants) in the final five games of the season, and that was the only one during that stretch in which had more than 70 yards.
Perhaps two-plus months without taking hits will make him fresher for a stretch run. Or perhaps this latest surgery would be another trigger for decline.
It’s too early to say if and when Peterson will return. Or how effective he might be if/when that happens. Or how he will even be used at that point if the offense has morphed into something better without him.
For now, it’s all speculation, as is his long-term future in Minnesota with an $18 million salary scheduled for next year that isn’t likely to be realized.
“I have looked a lot at what our 2017 roster is going to look like and some of the significant contracts we may have coming up and some of the guys we may not be able to afford to keep,” Spielman said. “So you’re always planning to look ahead from that front.”
For now, Peterson is likely the best option to return in late November or December among the starters on injured reserve. After that, all bets are off.