Sunday slant: Minnesota Vikings now stress team over star power

For the perhaps the first time in more than two decades, the Minnesota Vikings offense lacks a singular star to strike fear in defenses.

Cordarrelle Patterson tweeted at Adrian Peterson to “come join the dark side,” a plea for Peterson to sign with the Oakland Raiders.

If that were to happen – and there are indications it’s hardly the Raiders’ first option – it would be two former Minnesota Vikings “stars” of greatly varying varieties on the same team not in Minnesota. 

Although terming Patterson a “star” might be a stretch, he provided several big moments on kick returns that might be difficult to replace. How many of those were actually game-changing might be up to debate, and just how much value there is in a kick returner who often had teams kicking away from him or booting it past him and the end line is another debate. Patterson was more of an athletic tease than a star, blessed with a hard-to-find combination of speed and size at the receiver position but with too much inconsistency for two head coaches and three offensive coordinators to fully trust him running routes much beyond the line of scrimmage.

Peterson had been the fully bona fide and tenured star of the highest caliber for most of his career. He started his career with a bang that turned out to be a rarity – a receiving touchdown that started as a short pass and turned into a 60-yard scamper that displayed his burst and quickly showed what he’s capable of when “he’s loose.” That famous and excited call of Peterson in the open field will fade, even if play-by-play expert Paul Allen will continue one of his signature lines with other players.

Peterson was an impressive specimen from the infancy of his NFL career. He provided pop and power when need, and elusiveness and speed when those traits were called for.

Eventually, though, a combination of legal complexities and child disciplinary tactics that could be argued ad nauseum were only part of his end times in Minnesota. As good as Peterson was/is, he wasn’t going to beat Father Time. Perhaps he can find a few more 1,000-yard seasons in his strong legs and stronger will, but at 32 years old in the 2017 season and with mixed feelings about him – some fans will never forget the pictures of his bruised son while others will never let that blur their adoration – there wasn’t an overwhelming outcry among the Minnesota masses that the Vikings must re-sign him.

The same pride that drove him through weaker tacklers and drove his legs in his youth also contributed to the closing of his career in purple. He and/or his agent appear to still be grappling with the idea that the market can’t find a place for him for more than $5 million per season. 

He will go down as the greatest running back in Vikings history, and likely the best of his generation as the Hall of Fame will eventually create a space for his bust next to several of his items already residing there. But, his time in Minnesota is up, leaving a void in a roster lacking a true star.

Peterson has been that “face of the franchise” since his arrival in 2006 as he quickly unseated Chester Taylor and started his assault on the rushing record books. During his career, Peterson saw one brief year when he was overshadowed by another transcending star when Brett Favre arrived in 2009 and had the best season of his storied career built on vengeance by his perceived slight from Green Bay brass.

It was only a brief interruption, however, as Father Time and allegations from women put a black mark on the Ol’ Gunslinger’s exit, even if Brad Childress and several teammates didn’t want to give up the dream when Favre clearly had after that 2009 season.

Besides that season, Peterson has owned the moniker of “face of the franchise” on his proud and chiseled shoulders for the last decade. 

Before that, there were others.

In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, it was Randy Moss, “The Freak” that paved the way for “All Day.” Like Peterson, Moss’s emergence was immediate, sure and undisputed. His burst was evident from the time he stepped his fleet feet on the practice fields of Winter Park and was evident to more in Mankato before the highlights of his easy-gliding way were broadcast to all as his rookie season continued. Tampa Bay felt his wrath early, and the best teams in the NFC at the time – from Green Bay to Dallas – had no answer for the surly rookie who long-strided past all doubters.

He quickly unseated Cris Carter as the most popular Viking of the era, and it didn’t matter if it was Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham or Daunte Culpepper lofting mighty, arcing passes for him as he easily dusted defenders in his wake or leaped over others that couldn’t keep up with his size, wingspan and vertical prowess. Moss was regularly leaping into the stands of the Metrodome and into the embracing and adoring arms of fans left in awe of his athleticism.

Before him, Carter ruled the hearts of purple populace. The two of them together helped create “Three Deep,” along with Jake Reed. Add with a potent speedster like Robert Smith in the backfield, never has a Vikings offense seen so many points … or stars on one offense.

Those days are nearly two decades in the distant past. The Peterson era ruled the next decade.

But now? 

The field is open. There is no superstar on offense.

Kyle Rudolph can be a very productive tight end, but only the elite at that position turn into stars.

The receiver position has potential with Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and perhaps a revival season in store for Jarius Wright. Laquon Treadwell’s draft status as a first-round pick would indicate potential, but his rookie season was a complete dud.

Latavius Murray was a solid signing as Peterson’s replacement and he could be (and should be) a 1,000-yard back, but he’s no Peterson. His deference to Peterson’s No. 28 jersey, while a classy gesture, was one indication that even he doesn’t believe he can reach that status.

For now, the Vikings offense will have to be built in a well-rounded fashion that tries to keep defenses guessing. Sam Bradford has options and has to hope the new-look offensive line is far stouter than the 2016 version that saw eight different starting varieties and left Bradford bruised.

The best-case scenario is that Mike Zimmer’s defense continues its ascending ways and the offense can find its stride, even if it isn’t explosive or planting fear in opponents’ collective hearts.

It’s been a long time since the Vikings offense has entered the season without a tried and true star. Perhaps the team – and Zimmer has always stressed team over individual – will be built well enough for a deeper playoff run.

But, until it gets to that point, Vikings fans accustomed to transcending offensive players will be searching for their next star.

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