This week we’re likely going to find out the disposition of the career of Adrian Peterson as a member of the Minnesota Vikings. Team brass and the agent for Peterson likely are going to have a meeting of some kind to see where the two sides stand this week at the NFL Scouting Combine.
It may be a long negotiation. It may end in a matter of seconds.
At a time when no other running back has a 2017 cap number half of what Peterson is slated to cost the Vikings (LeSean McCoy of Buffalo is No. 2 at $8.875 million), Peterson’s projected cap hit of $18 million for 2017 has been universally viewed as untenable.
It’s not going to happen. Yet, the big question being asked is what should Peterson’s salary value be.
There are only five running backs with a 2017 cap hit of more than one-third what Peterson is scheduled to make and two of those – Jonathan Stewart ($8.88 million) and Jamaal Charles ($6.19 million) – are likely going to have to restructure or face getting cut themselves in the coming days.
The reality of the new NFL is that running backs are an endangered species and their value is being undermined consistently – to the point where guys like Le’Veon Bell will struggle to get contracts averaging more than $10 million a year – contracts they seek in the prime of their careers, not when they’re a little more than three weeks from their 32nd birthday.
There has been a ton of discussion over this matter for more than just the last month or so. In reality, it has been an ongoing topic of discussion around Winter Park for three years.
If the Vikings opt to simply cut Peterson, neither side should be viewed as villain or victim. In 10 years as a Viking, Peterson was paid almost $95 million, including $9.93 million in 2014 – minus the three-game checks taken when he was removed from the Commissioner’s Exempt List (a total of $2,073,529) – when he was sidelined by the league while answering to charges of child abuse in Texas.
You can’t say the Vikings haven’t compensated Peterson handsomely for his talents. He has been paid more than $60 million in salary and accrued more than $33 million in bonus money (signing bonuses, roster bonuses, option bonuses, workout bonuses and incentives).
Where the, if we dare use the term, “schism” started between the Vikings and Peterson was in 2014 when the child abuse allegations were brought against him and prevented him from playing. It festered from there.
Following his missed season of 2014, many were dismayed to hear that Peterson’s representatives wanted to renegotiate his contract. Those people were even more stunned when they learned the Vikings agreed to do it – a season after paying roughly $8 million for one game.
As divisive as that was – in the general outside world and within the walls of Winter Park, where there were differing opinions on how to move forward with Peterson given the legal proceedings in Texas – it got ramped up when amateur doctors put on their rental lab coats and diagnosed Peterson’s meniscus injury in 2016.
Without the professional opinion of the surgeon in charge, Peterson’s injury was viewed as an either/or proposition – he could get the surgery that was short-term with potential long-term life ramifications or the longer-term surgery that might wipe out his 2016 season and he probably would be able to play with his grandchildren without a debilitating limp.
The latter surgery – if it was Peterson’s decision to make or not – was performed and he came back ahead of that surgical timetable to try to help the Vikings run the table at the end of the season, which would have put them in the playoffs.
It didn’t happen and Peterson was shut down. It is up to debate as to who exactly made the call to shut it down. Both the Vikings and Peterson had very justifiable reasons to sit him. Peterson’s was health-related. The Vikings’ was financially motivated.
The bottom line is that, given his age and history of significant knee injuries, the most that Peterson could expect to realistically be paid is probably $10 million over two seasons. The Vikings may offer less than that, which could end talks before they get going.
Always the warrior, Peterson still maintains he can play for five years more. He has a history of coming back strong when people have written him off. But, it would appear that the time is coming that it’s with someone else – Vikings fans hope it won’t be with Green Bay or Detroit.
Peterson’s legacy as a Viking is unquestioned. It could be argued that he was the greatest running back in team history about midway through his rookie season, when the national media ripped the crown imprinted with “best running back in the league” off LaDainian Tomlinson’s head and had a quick coronation of Peterson.
That was almost a decade ago and, it can be argued that, at the start of the 2016 season, he still wore that crown.
But, this is 2017 and the NFL stands for Not For Long.
Nobody argues that Peterson is worth $18 million in 2017 dollars. Most will argue he’s not worth half that given the current circumstances. Many will contend he won’t get a contract with an average of one-third that amount - even with 31 other teams with the chance to make offers.
The decision is going to come down sometime in the next 10 days. Whether it is to announce a restructuring or quietly announce a release, the glory days of Adrian Peterson as a Viking are most likely over. His career will go on, just as so many other great running backs have, but the Vikings are a different team than the one that started the 2016 season. Teddy Bridgewater isn’t viewed as the starter. Norv Turner isn’t the offensive coordinator. And Peterson isn’t the focus of the offense.
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Combine those factors and, like it or not, it’s time for the Vikings and Peterson to part ways – hopefully amicably. As Rick Spielman said last week, Peterson will always be a Viking, just as the greats in the history of the NFL will be remembered with the team they are most closely associated with. Name a famous Viking over the last 20 years – Randy Moss, Cris Carter, John Randle, Randall McDaniel, Matt Birk, Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Williams. All of them posted careers of Hall of Fame consideration largely as members of the Vikings.
None of them finished their careers in Minnesota, yet they’re all remembered as Vikings before any other team they played with.
The same likely will be true with Peterson and it looks like it is time to get that twilight-of-the-career process started.
They say the NFL is business and they’re not kidding.