Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports

If Adrian Peterson isn't back with Minnesota Vikings, things will change considerably

There have been just a handful of Vikings players that have dominated how defensive coaches approach Minnesota. The Vikings could be on the cusp of losing one of those players.

The mind is a funny thing. It tends to pick and choose its memories.

Fans of the Minnesota Vikings have never been treated to a Super Bowl championship, although it should be noted that they won an NFL title in 1969 prior to the AFL-NFL merger. But fans still remember with a twinkle in their eye the memories that great players have given them.

When it comes to those elite few players that are specifically game-planned for and are the primary focus of defensive attention, their contributions have a ripple effect. The mere threat of the damage they can cause changes not only how teams scheme defensively to stop them, but it impacts how they approach the draft and free agency.

A case could be made that the Vikings have had four players in their history to fit that lofty status – Fran Tarkenton, Randy Moss, Daunte Culpepper and Adrian Peterson.

Tarkenton was a scrambling version of Aaron Rodgers. His ability to extend plays beyond their normal time limit often created schoolyard-type plays. At times, he would twist, spin and run backwards 20 yards behind the line of scrimmage looking for daylight, often turning what could be a disastrous loss into a big gain.

In a different way, there were similarities to Culpepper’s game. He wouldn’t run away from people. He would run over them. The threat for Pepp to do damage with his legs often led to defenses employing a spy to try to keep him in the pocket. When he got loose with a head of steam, big things tended to happen.

The Moss Effect was both pronounced and obvious. He was capable of doing things that only a handful of receivers in the history of the game were capable of. He commanded safety help over the top because single covering him was a recipe for disaster. Even when passes didn’t come his way, the threat of the deep pass and getting Moss in space often created mismatches on other parts of the field. Moss could impact a game without even touching the ball, making him a dangerous decoy when defenses committed to locking him down.

All three of those players were appreciated during their time, but it was only after they were gone that their full impact on the game was realized. Between Tarkenton and Culpepper, the Vikings had a slew of short-term starters that became a revolving door, from young players like Tommy Kramer, Wade Wilson and Rich Gannon to veterans like Warren Moon, Jeff George and Randall Cunningham. Since Culpepper last played for the Vikings, the team has attempted to develop a starting quarterback with spotty success.

These days, Vikings fans might have to brace for the possibility that Peterson has played his last game for the team. Down the stretch of the season, it seemed clear that neither the Vikings nor Peterson wanted to risk the possibility of an injury, so he was shut down the final two weeks of the season. As a result, his Vikings swan song wasn’t the bold statement both were looking for.

Life after Peterson is going to require some adjusting. Considering that he has missed the better portion of two of the last three seasons, Vikings coaches, players and fans have had more than a passing glimpse as to what life will be like without him, but, when that finality hits, the landscape of Vikings football will change.

The Vikings haven’t had a lot of success in replacing Tarkenton or Culpepper. You never replace an athletic freak like Moss. The post-Peterson era could be upon us and it will be interesting to see how the Vikings attempt to move on from their future Hall of Famer.

In the decade Peterson has been a Viking, the Minnesota offense has run through him. Defenses routinely committed eight players to the box (or more) because Peterson’s explosive playmaking ability required it. While it looks as though age and injuries are taking a toll on his body, he still can bring fear into the minds and hearts of defensive coordinators.

The 2017 Vikings are likely going to be the first team in 10 years not to have the specter of Peterson looming over it and dominating the conversation about how defenses approach Minnesota’s offense. When he went down in 2016, we saw the immediate result – the Vikings became a pass-happy offense that threw and completed more passes than at any time in franchise history.

We may have to get used to that because the next Adrian Peterson won’t simply come walking through the door at Winter Park and pick up where No. 28 left off. In the moment, fans can rationalize not having Peterson because of his contract cost. But the reality of going into a season without Peterson as the critical cog in the backfield is something that is going to take some getting used to and, like those who preceded him as the franchise offensive faceplate, the memories and the legend will grow taller as time passes by. It did for Tarkenton, Culpepper and Moss. It certainly will for Peterson as well.


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