For the first seven years of his career, the most controversial aspects of his performance were on the field. His fumbling was a serious issue in the 2009 NFC Championship Game against the New Orleans Saints and would have received even more attention if not for Brett Favre’s final interception, the battering the quarterback took and the ensuing Bountygate accusations that led to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams’ suspension and fines for the Saints.
Interesting, then, that Peterson is now scheduled to visit with the Saints on Tuesday. Williams is long since gone from New Orleans, but head coach Sean Payton remains. And, in a circle-of-NFL-life scenario, Peterson could be joined with Drew Brees, the quarterback that beat the Vikings in that conference title game and the same quarterback that was available to the Vikings when Daunte Culpepper was exiting to the Miami Dolphins.
The Saints are an interesting case study in the true interest in Peterson because they already have a more versatile running back in Mark Ingram. Would Peterson even fit in the Saints’ pass-heavy attack and would they want to essentially double (or more) their investment in the running back position for a 32-year-old likely to be a part-time player in that offense?
The Seattle Seahawks also gave Peterson a look-see visit early in free agency and passed on him for former Packers back Eddie Lacy.
But those aren’t even the biggest questions surrounding Peterson’s availability that has now hit one month on the market. The Oakland Raiders also seem to have greater interest in wooing another old back (Marshawn Lynch) out of retirement rather than staking claim on Peterson.
But to hit the trifecta of controversy, Peterson – of late no stranger to it – had to visit another team that has generated headlines for on-field success and off-field controversy, the New England Patriots.
The Patriots have won five Super Bowls in Bill Belichick’s 16-year run there on his way to the Hall of Fame. They’ve also been entangled in Spygate, Inflategate and other less messy controversies.
In that theater, it would be a headline-generating pairing if Peterson were signed by the Patriots, but, of course, there are doubters about just how interested the Patriots were in actually signing Peterson.
The fact that he left without a contract offer lends credibility to the skepticism.
One theory had the Patriots using Peterson as a negotiating ploy to get LeGarrette Blount, another physical, free-agent running back, to re-sign with New England. To date, that hasn’t happened.
Another theory advances the storyline that Belichick wanted to do Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, a favor by bringing Peterson in to potentially kick-start more interest in him around the league – you know, if the Patriots want him, surely every other team should look into him.
But bringing Peterson in also created some backlash given the statements made by the Patriots brass.
“I’m going to speak for the New England Patriots, and I think going back to the days of Christian Peter, we’ve been pretty stringent about it and I think ahead of the curve when it comes to the seriousness of this issue,” Patriots president Jonathan Kraft said on 98.5 The Sports Hub last fall about bringing in players with domestic violence accusations in their past. “I don’t think there’s an issue that you could say … there might be some that are as serious, but there’s nothing more serious than what’s going on in the domestic violence and the sexual abuse area. It’s something that we have felt strongly about since we’ve owned the franchise.”
“We’re using the power of professional sports and our players and our brand to make sure … we help prevent teenage assault and abuse and hopefully start to teach young men when they’re still in their formative years that it’s something that’s totally unacceptable and it’s not something that we’re ever going to tolerate here at the New England Patriots,” Kraft said. “We have taken it seriously for the 24 years we’ve owned the team. And [it] is something, for us, there literally is no gray area. It’s a very definitive and clear situation.”
The Patriots in 2015 donated $1.5 million to domestic violence prevention and lauded that act on their web site. But they have also drafted or signed players with some violent issues in their past and then claimed they researched those cases and then “felt comfortable” with those decisions.
Whether Peterson’s child abuse charges stemming from him disciplining his son with a switch were part of their talks during their visit with him or not, it would be difficult for the Patriots to not look hypocritical if they signed Peterson after Kraft’s words. Peterson’s camp and others have claimed that form of discipline was simply part of his upbringing and it may well be in the past now, but with fans sensitive to the subject it certainly wouldn’t be a good look good considering Kraft’s words over the last few years.
The Patriots may have brought Peterson in with legitimate interest, they may have been doing his agent a favor, or there’s an even deeper “football” reason behind it.
One theory was advanced by Boston Herald writer Jeff Howe, who insinuated that the Patriots may have just been doing research on Peterson’s injury history in case they face him in the near future. How healed is his knee? What about those abdominal strains that have inflicted their pain on Peterson? Could the Patriots use that to their advantage if, say, he signed with another team that the Patriots might meet up with in the playoffs in the coming years?
“You just think about scouting. He’s coming off of some knee surgery, obviously. And let’s say it’s a situation where the Raiders, who need a running back, they want to go after Peterson,” Howe said on the radio last week. “The Raiders were right there for the No. 1 seed last year before Derek Carr went down, so let’s say they want to go after Peterson. Belichick gets a little advanced scouting on Peterson, the knee, whether or not [Belichick] thinks that [Peterson] can be a threat on the field next year, and it kind of helps that situation.”
With an NFL champion that has a blemished reputation of exploiting any avenue for an advantage, there will be controversy. Just like Peterson’s off-the-field actions have created a divide among his fans and former fans.
For Minnesota Vikings fans, the drama will be someone else’s problem, but the “hot takes” keep on giving, whether they are legitimate or not.