Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY

Minnesota Vikings had one good reason to not release Adrian Peterson early

Why didn’t the Minnesota Vikings simply release Adrian Peterson instead making him wait until March 9 to hit free agency? There’s one good reason.

The Minnesota Vikings wouldn’t have had any different financial results with Adrian Peterson if they had released him or simply declined to pick up the 2017 option year on his contract.

Either way, the Vikings weren’t paying him $18 million this year – something the team and Peterson have known for some time – and either way there was going to be no difference in their salary cap. They would feel the full relief of shedding $18 million on the cap without any dead money associated with it.

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So why did the Vikings not just release Peterson when they had made the decision to not pick up his option, putting him on the free-agent market early?

There was one big advantage to it – they are now eligible to have Peterson count in the formula that the NFL uses to award compensatory picks for 2018 and Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman loves to accumulate extra draft picks.

Since Peterson will become an unrestricted free agent on March 9 rather than becoming a street agent, which would have been the case if they released him earlier, the Vikings might be able to receive a compensatory pick, something that didn’t happen this year. Peterson could figure heavily into that equation.

Compensatory free agents are determined by a formula based on salary, playing time and postseason honors. The formula was developed by the NFL Management Council. Not every free agent lost or signed by a club is covered by this formula and street free agents are not part of the equation. Compensatory picks are positioned within the third through seventh rounds based on the value of the compensatory free agents lost.

The Vikings are looking to improve an offense that finished last in the NFL in rushing yards while Peterson played in only three games in 2016. Not having him available last year was one of the reasons the offense struggled, but certainly not the only one.

“I guess that’s part of it. Even when Adrian was here for the full year we were 27th in the league on offense, but we hadn’t turned the ball over, we had a young quarterback at that time that was basically a second-year guy,” head coach Mike Zimmer said this week at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Some of it was a combination of having a young quarterback, Peterson not being there. Unfortunately all those things happen.”

The Vikings believe Peterson could fit into offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s scheme, but they clearly weren’t going to pay anywhere near his $18 million salary.

“A coach’s job is to get whoever you’ve got on the team to play and play good and play together as a team,” Zimmer said. “That’s part of the issue. Whoever is there you’ve got to play with and that’s just the way it is.”

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