NFL analyst Merrill Hodge uses his catch-phrase “factor back” as a crutch, but when it comes to Adrian Peterson’s situation going forward with the Minnesota Vikings, a modified version of that phrase aptly applies.
Peterson has been a “factor back” for the Vikings over the last decade, but as the front office decision makers consider his future, there are so many factors regarding whether he should be back or not.
Of course, it just seems too obvious to elaborate much that Peterson shouldn’t be retained under his currently scheduled $18 million salary-cap hit for 2017. But just how much is Peterson worth and what are the issues that factor in determining that worth?
Considering he is no longer the top back in the NFL – one could argue he isn’t even a top-10 back in the ever-evolving league – the first obstacle will be Peterson’s response when approached with talks of a pay cut.
During the ugly incident of child abuse allegations that forever marred his perception among many fans, his agent called for the Vikings to trade him. It seems the fan response to that request – or demand, whichever way you’d like to classify it – was to get upset with either the agent, Ben Dogra, or Peterson himself. In retrospect, that might have been the time to do it and still receive decent compensation in return.
Instead, in 2014 Peterson only played one game for the Vikings after compiling more than 3,300 yards over the previous two seasons. Now, Peterson’s stock doesn’t mesh with his salary, which would seem to make trading him an impossibility – why would a team give up anything in return to the Vikings in addition to taking on Peterson’s $18 million salary? Now, another team might just be able to wait it out and get Peterson on the free-agent market.
After initially seeming to brush off the likelihood of a pay cut in mid-December, when Peterson’s response was that the salary cap is expected to rise by at least $10 million, last week he finally seemed resigned to reality that a pay cut is coming, either from the Vikings or another team.
Peterson is as prideful as they come, intent on taking any bit of doubt in his ability, or his capability to come back from injury, and proving the skeptic wrong. However, some wondered if the meniscus injury he suffered in Week 2 really required a full surgery or could have just been shaved some, allowing him to play sooner than the three months he missed after electing for the “long route” surgery.
After the season, he was asked directly if the meniscus could have been shaved, as some speculated.
“It was a possibility, but it wasn’t anything that doctors recommended because I tore 90 percent of it (lateral meniscus). If it was like 10 percent I would have trimmed it off and been back in a couple weeks,” he said. “But 90 percent of your meniscus being gone, especially with how it worked out and how I play the game, it could have been six months to a year before I was bone on bone. With me knowing I have a lot left in the tank, it would have been crazy to cut off 90 percent of meniscus. So that’s why I had the option of getting it repaired and taking the long route.”
That only backs up what Peterson continues to say, that he intends to play for many more years rather than a year or two and done. Except for some brief introspection that had him wondering if he ever wanted to return again when he was dealing with the child abuse allegations in 2014, Peterson has long maintained he can be productive into his mid-30s and beyond.
His latest track record with injuries might indicate otherwise, but he isn’t willing to concede to Father Time.
Asked if he can play at a high level at 32, 33 or 34 years old, he continued the count.
“Yeah. 35, 36. Don’t cut it off short. But, yeah, definitely, man,” he said. “I felt good. It’s so unfortunate that, especially like for the running back position, that you’re a number. And I’ve always been a guy that I don’t think that way. I think outside the norm.”
But that same line of thinking might make it hard for him accept a drastic pay cut, perhaps as deep as having to accept one-third or less of what he was scheduled to make in 2017.
Besides Peterson, the top-paid backs in the NFL next year are scheduled to make under $9 million. In 2015, Peterson led the league with 1,485 yards rushing. This year, seven players finished with 1,200 or more yards.
Only two of those seven – LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray – weren’t still playing under their rookie contracts. They are both 28 and their average salary for 2017 is about $7.5 million. Peterson will be 32 in March.
You do the math. At some point, age is more than “just a number,” it’s a reality that catches up with every player in the league, especially running backs. Peterson may not want to accept that reality, but it is coming – like it or not, ready or not.
“I know that I have at least seven more years. In my mind, I’m thinking if God’s willing, I stay healthy, I’ll play five more,” he said. “And it’s going to be at a high level. So that’s the way that I envision things going for me when it comes to my career and how I think about it.”
But would he continue to be as motivated at $5 million or even $6 million a year? And, honestly, is he really even worth that given how the Vikings offense has changed?
“I would love to finish my career here with the Minnesota Vikings. So that’s where my mind is. I’m not talking contract,” he said. “We have a little time before that all airs out.”
The Vikings likely have already arrived at their decision, but it’s likely down to two simply choices: ask him to take a pay cut with a threshold on how high they will go, or simply release him and move on.
The first seems likely because no doubt some in the organization are holding out hope that the Peterson of 2012 or even 2015 can return. The reality is that those seasons were forged with better offensive lines, lesser quarterbacks and a different offense.
Putting his scheduled $18 million salary toward other assets would go a long way to rebuilding that offensive line, perhaps extending Sam Bradford’s contract and finding a more versatile back in the draft.
Peterson has been the face of the franchise since he was drafted in 2007 for all but two of those years (2009 with Brett Favre and 2014 with his legal issues). He’s battled injuries, carried poor passing offenses and built himself into a future Hall of Famer.
All that said, change is hard, but it seems there is no better time than the present to enact a difficult action that will come eventually anyways.