The big ballers and shot callers of the Minnesota Vikings are down in Houston hobnobbing with moneyed elite, but, when they return to Winter Park, one of the biggest questions that is going to have to be answered is the Curious Case of Cordarrelle Patterson.
Perhaps no first-round pick in recent franchise history that has played out his contract has been more polarizing in opinion than Patterson. The whispers of “he’s a bust” have been thrown Laquon Treadwell’s way without the benefit of a system willing to embrace a role for his skill set rather than round peg/square hole thinking.
Patterson is a different story. He came to Minnesota untested – one full season as a breakout college star – but had the benefit of coming to a team looking to add additional weapons to an offense centering around Adrian Peterson.
To that end, Patterson was a benefit to Peterson.
As a rookie, Patterson flashed big-play brilliance. He scored nine touchdowns – four receiving, three rushing and two on kick returns. He was a bigger, more durable Percy Harvin.
Then a funny thing happened. One game into the 2014 season – the first year with Mike Zimmer and Norv Turner as sheriff and chief deputy – Peterson was suspended and Patterson became the organizational choice to become the face of the offense in his stead.
It didn’t work out well. Patterson and Turner seemed to be like oil and water. Patterson in the open field was dangerous, which is why he is an elite return man, but his role in the offense diminished like the polar ice cap.
He didn’t miss a game in his first three seasons, yet his receiving numbers declined from 45 to 33 to 2. Patterson stock was in full-out panic sell mode.
For those with short memories, the 2013 draft featured three first-round picks for the Vikings – the anti-2017 draft (as it stands now). Sharrif Floyd came first. Xavier Rhodes quickly followed. Patterson came in late, interrupting Rick Spielman’s Night One roundup as he bailed from the podium to sign off on a trade that brought Patterson to the Vikings.
Less than a year ago, the same Vikings brass that endorsed Patterson had to make the decision whether to exercise the fifth-year option on their trio of 2013 rookie first-rounders.
Rhodes? A no-brainer. Floyd? They did, but kept in mind that they have rescinding rights that gave them options. Patterson? Nope.
When the 2016 season began, Patterson was fully on notice that he’d best step up or he’d be stepping off. His stock had dropped to the point that his role on special teams was expanded. Not only was he the pre-eminent kick return man, he was asked to be on the offensive failure side of the ball – be a gunner.
Patterson became a sniper.
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His willingness to accept the role of special teams ace – typically reserved for a Day 3 draft pick – spoke volumes to the organization, whether explicitly spoken or unsaid.
The Vikings drafted Patterson to be what John Madden liked to call a “field-tilter.” He could tilt the field returniing kickoffs and taking the wind out of opposition momentum. He proved he could help pin opposing punt returners from replicating his largesse by getting to the ball before they did.
A funny thing happened that was funnier than when Patterson went into offensive exile. He became a key component to the Vikings offense. While not a downfield threat (who was?), his reception total went from two to 52.
He has provided the Vikings with a conundrum they (clearly) didn’t anticipate.
What is Patterson’s open market value? All it takes is one team with a vision to create competition.
Given what Patterson put on tape in 2016, you can bet he’s on the radar of 31 other teams.
Will somebody step up with an eye-popping offer? A shake of the Magic 8-Ball says “All signs point to Yes.”
As Vikings fans prep themselves for the possibility of the post-Peterson era, they may as well take a moment to acknowledge the possibility of a post-Patterson era – with hopes he signs with an AFC team if that era comes.