Much of the last week in Packers Country has been spent trying to come up with explanations as to why Green Bay lost in the NFC Championship. As can be the habit of Packers fans, they refuse to take into account the possibility that Atlanta was the better team and would have beaten Green Bay even if the offense had a stellar day.
One of the immediate takeaways from the game, from Aaron Rodgers on up, is that the Packers would have to break from their longstanding tradition of refusing to go to the outside to add an impact free agent. As most fans are aware, Green Bay is an organization that has been constructed almost exclusively through the draft. Rare is the occasion when the Packers sign an impact free agent from the outside.
Could the Minnesota Vikings hold the key to that potential?
The next several weeks are going to determine the future of running back Adrian Peterson in Minnesota. While Peterson has made it clear he isn’t done with football, given his $18 million salary, he is more likely than not to be done as a Viking, as the team prepares to move forward with a young team in need of salary cap space. General manager Rick Spielman says he would like Peterson to finish his career as a Viking, but the reality is that there are some significant obstacles that would need to be overcome to make that happn.
While this may sound to some like a crazy offseason space-filler on a Vikings website, it’s worthy of serious consideration given the history of the Packers, the Vikings and Peterson.
For starters, you need to look at the Packer model of handling free agency. They’ve rarely dipped their organizational toe in the cold March water of big-time free agency, but, when they have, they have targeted veteran players who have earned their bone in the NFL and were regarded as having their best years behind them.
The first major splash the Packers made in free agency was in 1993, when full-blown free agency was still in its infancy. Reggie White, who was a pioneer in the battle to start free agency, was a 32-year-old defensive end whom the Eagles knew had good football left in him (plenty as it would turn out), but was quickly approaching that teams tend to balk at giving out big-money, long-term contracts – much less in the early days of free agency where big money wasn’t handed out nearly as freely as it is now.
The Packers made the move and White would go on to play six seasons with the Packers, averaging 11 sacks a year in that span and helping Green Bay win its first Super Bowl since the Lombardi era.
Green Bay wouldn’t take its next big foray into outside free agency again until 2006. Cornerback Charles Woodson had been a star in Oakland, but not only had he hit the not-so-magic number of 30 – an age when elite CBs are known to lose a step – injuries had plagued him in recent years. He hadn’t played all 16 games in the previous four seasons and, of a possible 64 games, he had missed 22 of them – including 10 in 2005. The Raiders were unwilling to pay top dollar for a defensive back that had earned an injury reputation, but the Packers recognized talent and believed that, if Woodson could stay healthy, he was as likely to defy the odds, whether he played cornerback or safety.
Woodson ended up playing seven seasons for the Packers after turning 30 and, in the first six seasons, he missed just three games, leading the league twice in interceptions and bringing back nine of those picks for touchdowns.
The last time Green Bay made a splash to sign a big-name free agent with a pedigree was in 2014 when they signed edge rusher Julius Peppers. After spending eight years with the Panthers and the previous four in Chicago, there was some question as to how much gas Peppers had left in the tank at age 34. Three years and 25 sacks later, he has shown that, even age 36, he could still bring it.
Given Green Bay’s success of signing free agents that conventional wisdom would tell you were Hall of Famers on the back side of their career, it leads into the next element to the equation.
Peterson is adamant that he has not reached the cliché expiration date for running backs over the age of 30. He is going to have to accept less money because the market value for running backs has plummeted in the pass-happy era of the NFL and even former league rushing leaders like DeMarco Murray and Shady McCoy had to learn that lesson the hard way when they were due big contracts.
There has been a lot of underlying tension between the organization and Peterson stemming from the charges of child abuse from his disciplining of his son in 2014. The Vikings paid Peterson during the majority of his suspension, as fans learned that something called the Commissioner’s Exempt List was a real thing.
Bringing Peterson back in 2015 wasn’t a unanimous decision given the public relations hit the Vikings took when the charges came to light a year earlier. There were some in the front office – Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren among them – that has reservations at the time. Two years and a significant injury later, there are likely more front office types that are weighing the value of Peterson in the new-look Vikings offense against the salary he will be looking for.
If Peterson hits the open market, he will do so with a chip on his shoulder, which leads to the third piece of the puzzle – revenge.
The revenge factor can work two ways in this scenario. Peterson wants to prove to the world (again) that he is still the preeminent running back in the NFL. He did it in 2012. He did it again in 2015. With his lofty career expectations, he is convinced he can play at a high level for five more years, whether anyone else believes it or not.
You have a motivated player looking to do damage in the NFL to opposing defenses. In Green Bay, you have a team in need of a star running back and one with some deep-seeded revenge of its own in mind. Throw in that Peterson has pretty consistently owned the Packers over his decade in the NFL, he may be more attractive to Green Bay than some other teams because of the painful memories he has tattooed on the Packers coaches, players and fan base.
The Packers and Brett Favre eventually kissed and made up, but Ted Thompson hasn’t forgotten that the Vikings made a big move to sign Brett Favre. Thompson was no dummy. When he traded Favre to the Jets to make room for Aaron Rodgers to take over, he put a clause in the trade that would require the Jets to give up two first-round picks if they tried an end-run to trade Favre to the Vikings.
When New York released Favre after drafting Mark Sanchez, the Vikings signed him and stuck an organizational knife in the backs of the Packers. Who better to get their revenge with than signing Peterson and putting a Vikings icon in green and gold?
The Packers clearly aren’t far away from making a Super Bowl run. Rodgers remains one of the premier quarterbacks in the league and Green Bay has a mix of young and veteran players on defense. Eddie Lacy (a.k.a Feast Mode) is a question mark to come back and their leading rusher rusher in 2016 wore No. 88 – a number never given to someone expected to be a running back.
It may be a case of connecting dots that aren’t there, but it isn’t far-fetched given the factors in play that the Packers may end up trying to fill a need that fits in their past history of the rare over-30 free agent signing and allows Packers fans to exact a little revenge along the way.
It isn’t overly likely at this point, but there are too many signs to completely ignore the possibility.