The biggest question that needs to be decided by the Minnesota Vikings over the next month is what is going to happen to the team’s running game. Adrian Peterson is set to make $18 million this season – a figure that is way out of whack with what the current pay landscape is for running backs.
Younger star running backs are getting paid approximately $10 million a year, which appears to be the new ceiling for running back contracts. There’s no way the Vikings are going to pay Peterson that kind of money given his age, but he has been such a key component of the Vikings offense over the last decade that the team may have to look in a much different direction. From the looks of the free-agent class this season, if the Vikings are going to make a move at running back, it may have to be in draft, because the free-agent crop is a mixed bag at best.
What makes Minnesota’s situation unique is that, as things currently stand, if Peterson isn’t retained, the only running backs on the roster next month will be Jerick McKinnon and C.J. Ham. Both Matt Asiata and Zach Line are free agents and if the team moves on from Peterson, the running back room will have a different look in it a month from now.
If the Vikings do look to free agency to find a featured back to either take the lead role or share time with McKinnon, here are some of the options to give a long look.
Le’Veon Bell – He would be the home run candidate, because he is likely going to set the new bar for what running backs are paid – likely in the neighborhood of $10-11 million a year. But, given his importance to the Steelers, if the two sides can’t work out a long-term deal, Pittsburgh will likely slap him with the franchise tag.
Latavius Murray – A between-the-tackles workhorse with the Raiders, he isn’t flashy, but is a strong goal-line back. He was part of a three-man rotation with the Raiders and there isn’t any reason to believe Oakland will break the bank to keep him. A deal in the $5-6 million a year range is likely if someone is willing to pay that much, which is far from guaranteed.
Eddie Lacy – Known to his detractors as Feast Mode, Lacy has shown he can be a strong grind-it-out runner, but Green Bay is likely to play hardball on a long-term deal, which means Lacy could end up getting an incentive-laden, short-term contract offer that could lead to animosity, which could put him on the Vikings radar if the price is right.
Rashad Jennings – Released Monday by the Giants, Jennings has the ability to be a featured back, but was caught up in a constant rotation in New York over the last couple of seasons that has him in and out of the lineup consistently without the chance to make a difference in the long term.
Darren McFadden – Two years ago, he was a 1,000-yard rusher, but did it behind the Cowboys offensive line – leading many to believe that anyone could do it if he could. His age and injury history play against him.
The growing sentiment is that Peterson is going to ask for more than the Vikings are willing to spend under the salary cap to pay him and they, like it or not, are going to have to part ways. If that happens, the future of the Vikings running game may well be in the hands of a yet-to-be-named rookie, because the free agent running back class includes only one star and it’s unlikely even the frugal Steelers will be willing to let him go.