As the Minnesota Vikings set south to find new talent in the college all-star games this weekend (East-West Shrine Game) and next (Senior Bowl), they also have the task of solving the personnel puzzle that can perplex many a team.
The Vikings finally seem to have a quarterback in place that is at or above the NFL average in talent, but they also believed they had that potential in the past with an ascending Teddy Bridgewater before his knee was shredded on the practice fields of Winter Park just hours after the team made it first mass cuts of the roster on Aug. 30.
With Sam Bradford now in place, decisions are required on two other players who were supposed to be key components of the offense – Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson. Peterson played only three (ineffective) games for the Vikings in 2016 and has a well-publicized $18 million price tag for 2017. Simply put, he isn’t going to see that. The reality of the running back market dictates he might have to settle for less than one-third of that – from the Vikings or another team – if he wants to continue his Hall of Fame career.
Peterson has made no bones about his intentions to play for another five years, but he is a prideful man and reality isn’t always clearly in his vision. When he endured messy allegations of child abuse in 2014, the Vikings stuck by his side, even if they hedged their bets to save face with sponsors. He continued to draw a healthy paycheck then and did it again in 2016 when sidelined for 13 of the 16 games.
But his contract and his age have now become front and center in discussions surrounding the future of the uber-talented and aggressive back. Depending on the direction of the wind that day, Peterson’s vision for his future changes. He remained resolute that he can play at least another five years and be productive; however, when it comes to his contract number, there is waffling.
At one point in December, when asked about his $18 million price tag for 2017, he said the NFL salary cap is expected to go up by as much as $10 million, an indication the Vikings would be able to afford his salary. Sure, they could, but it wouldn’t be wise money management given his lack of availability the last two years, the decline in the value of a running back in today’s NFL, a shifting offensive philosophy in the organization and his age.
More recently, he seems to realize a pay cut is coming. But, how far down in price will a prideful Peterson be willing to go? When asked by ESPN last week about his future, he maintained Minnesota is still in his future while also admitting to considering alternative options.
“I feel like it’s in purple,” Peterson said. “There is a lot that has to take place approaching March. That’s approaching soon – the next 30 days or so. But, I feel like I’ll finish it off in purple. It’s a business at the end of the day, so with that, things could up differently. I’m just going to control the things that I can control and hopefully we can work things out.”
And then this: “There’s a couple of teams out there that I have thought about,” Peterson said. “New York is one of them that has popped up. Tampa Bay. A lot of teams. Houston is a good spot.”
The Giants may not be willing to take on all that comes with Peterson. The child abuse allegations that were pleaded down to a misdemeanor are a thing of the past (mostly) in Minnesota, but would the Giants be willing to take on that backstory after their own public missteps with Josh Brown’s domestic violence issues? Initially, anyways, it would be a hard sell from a public relations standpoint.
At some point, Peterson will have to come to grips with all that entails his next contract – his past production has to be balanced with age, his injuries, his history. And past production is not a true indicator of future results for running backs in their 30s.
But he’s not the only star in purple that may have to accept a reality that doesn’t align with internal expectations.
Patterson has responded to questions about on-again, off-again usage in the Vikings offense over the past few years by routinely referencing “opportunity.” For the first few years, however, it didn’t seem like Patterson was willing to earn the opportunity, rather just wanted it handed to him.
That seemed to change during the 2016 offseason and Patterson earned more time. The way he put it, he felt more “wanted.”
“Those two years [2014 and 2015], I didn’t feel like I was wanted. I’m not going to lie. I’m not going to lie for nobody. I didn’t feel wanted. I had a lot of thought going in my head, I wanted to get out of there,” Patterson told SI Now. “I was telling George Stewart, my [receivers] coach, ‘I’m trying to get out of here.’ But we had a long talk, he was like, ‘The grass ain’t greener, it might not be greener on the other side.’ We sat down and talked and this year I feel like, hey, I’m wanted. I want to be here. This is the team that drafted me, I’ve been here four years, I knew everybody around here and I got cool here, my family loves it here so why go somewhere else where things might go wrong?”
After catching 45 passes for 469 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, Patterson’s production and playing time decreased over the next two years. Coaches repeated that he needed to improve in his route-running. Patterson said he worked hard on all kinds of skills in the offseason.
In 2016, he played in almost 50 percent of the snaps and his numbers returned to about what he had as a rookie – 52 catches for 453 yards.
“I really don’t think it was that successful. Over past years, it’s been a struggle for me, but all the hard work I’ve put in this offseason and all the great teammates that pushed me, those are the ones that I’ve got to thank for the season I had,” he said. “I don’t think it was a great season. I think it was just an OK season, like my rookie year, but I feel like the sky is the limit.”
He doesn’t seem satisfied with his production and he shouldn’t be. He is an immense physical talent, but even late in the 2016 season head coach Mike Zimmer admitted Patterson still has some work to do in learning the game and diagnosing defenses. He could be so much more if he figures out how to maximize his potential and bring his mental game on par with physical talents.
Patterson’s issue of feeling “wanted” sounds similar to that of Randy Moss, who was also in the news last week when he detailed his time in Minnesota when talking with former Timberwolves star Kevin Garnett on his Area 21 show.
“When I was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings, coach [Denny] Green pulled the trigger. We had a bond; it was more like a father-son bond. And I felt that he wanted me there, in Minnesota. But after he left, it felt like they did not want Denny’s players there in Minnesota anymore,” Moss told Garnett. “So if I could go back in time and change things, I probably would’ve left after the 15-1 season. That’s just crazy, that’s how football is. It’s not the game, it’s the business. Coming from college, it’s just football. Then when you go to the pros, it’s football plus X, Y and Z. Like I said, I had to learn on the go, but like I said, I was loyal to the Minnesota Vikings, I was loyal to Coach Green and that organization. For them to ship me out [after] six years, and not understanding the business – what I do know now, I’d have probably got out of there my second year.”
If he truly knew the business, he would understand that it wasn’t his choice to make. First-round rookies sign four-year contracts. His 15-1 season marked 25 percent of the way through that contract.
Like Peterson, Moss had his issues with public perception. Unlike Peterson, Moss was known to not always give full effort. Like Peterson, he is an immensely gift athlete and a Hall of Fame player.
And, like Peterson and Patterson, there is a blind spot.
Teams want elite talent. Moss is the most naturally talent receiver I’ve ever seen. Although he has several NFL receiving records, he should have set more. His study habits and mental football capacity were never questioned. But distractions can outweigh talent at some tipping point. To say that he wasn’t wanted in Minnesota after his rookie season is hogwash.
Green remained in Minnesota through 2001 and nobody supported Moss more than Green, so why would he want out after only one year under Green? When Mike Tice took over full-time in 2002, even he created the Randy Ratio, an ill-conceived concept that the ball should make its way to Moss on 40 percent of the passing plays. In theory it might have been a good idea, but publicizing it only alerted defenses and put undue pressure on quarterbacks to chuck it Moss’s way.
Even so, how could Moss believe that Tice didn’t want him there when it was Tice that created an unprecedented ratio that a receiver should have passes thrown his way?
Everyone can misjudge their worth and blame others when they don’t see it like the athlete. For Peterson, it may be a prideful interpretation of where he is in his career and why that career path has been derailed two of the last three years. For Patterson, it could be a lack of understanding that everyone in the NFL has great athleticism, but the separating factor is often study and training habits. For Moss, he failed to realize that perception can create different realities for different minds.
For the elite, sometimes the blind spots are bigger.