Sunday slant: A contract conundrum?

Adrian Peterson is rumored to want a new contract, but he's been compensated pretty well so far and his salary is set to escalate already next year. We examine the issues involved, which could collide to make it a challenging negotiation.

Adrian Peterson hasn't been a complainer, or even a "sport bitcher," as head coach Brad Childress playfully calls defensive tackle Pat Williams.

Peterson didn't complain about falling to the seventh overall draft pick in 2007. He didn't complain about sharing time with Chester Taylor at the beginning of his rookie season, despite starting off his professional career with 103 yards rushing and a screen pass that he took 60 yards for a touchdown in his first NFL game.

Life in the NFL has been pretty good to Peterson, but, according to former NFL personnel man Michael Lombardi, that could change soon. In a column he penned for, under the "Things I hear" section, Lombardi wrote: "The next player to complain about his contract will be Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who missed the mandatory minicamp due to a scheduling conflict."

Interestingly, NFL Network – the same outlet that also employs Lombardi – aired a brief interview with Peterson late last week (five days after Lombardi's column) in which he was asked if he can put the rumors of his dissatisfaction with his contract to rest. Peterson simply stated, "You can put them to rest."

He wasn't asked to expand on his feelings over his contract or his brief answer. At the very least, he doesn't appear ready to make a public appeal for a new contract – and that is the right move for a Pro Bowl player that still has some holes in his game.

Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy preaches patience for Peterson on the football field. That would be a good quality for the star running back to possess off the field right now, too.

Peterson came into the league a star, earned offensive rookie of the year, and is considered one of the best backs in the league, if not the best … but he still has to prove a few things before he tries to break out of his current contract.

In his first three years, Peterson could make the argument that he was underpaid relative to his production. His average salary over the six-year contract he signed was nearly $3.9 million, which might sound like a lot but doesn't even put him in the top 10 Vikings last year. However, much of his rookie contract, which runs through 2012, was built on stacks of incentives, and he's continued to hit them with big rushing seasons and plenty of awards.

His contract called for $17 million guaranteed, and could be worth $40.5 million if he hits those incentives, many of which are already in the bank.

He was the offensive rookie of the year in 2007, which cashed him $250,000. He rushed for 1,000 yards in two of his first three seasons, which earned him an additional $2.5 million. But the cash register continued to ring into the millions with each 1,000-yard season, playing-time incentives and Pro Bowl selections.

In all, Peterson could earn almost $20 million in incentives over the life of his rookie contract, and he shows no signs of decreased production. He's been relatively healthy, gaining over 1,300 yards per season and making Pro Bowls in each of his three NFL seasons.

Still, there are reasons Peterson needs to show patience off the field when it comes to his contract.

  • His seven fumbles and six lost in 2009 are the most glaring statistic that will be spotlighted as he enters training camp. The Vikings don't want to "take away his spirit," as Childress says, when it comes to Peterson's running style, but there is no question he needs to minimize his propensity to let the ball get away from his body, negating the power in his arms and hands. So far, Vikings fans have been relatively mild in criticizing him for the fumbles – the most among non-quarterbacks last year – but if he starts rocking the Vikings ship with talk of a new contract, fans could become more critical.

  • Peterson's explosiveness is well-documented and his value as a multi-faceted threat is growing, but, like the fumbling issue, he needs to improve on the number of rushes that go no yards or lose yards. The Vikings were below average (21st) in that category in 2008 and fell to last in 2009, according to Football Outsiders. Almost one-fourth of the Vikings' runs failed to gain yards.

  • Chris Johnson is the league's defending rushing leading, having gone over 2,000 yards last year – that's been an unfulfilled goal of Peterson's from the start – but Johnson is nowhere near the most well-compensated running back. His base salary is only $550,000 this year, and he is the one making the most waves over a new contract. He has a more convincing argument than Peterson, whose base is a very manageable $3.64 million this year before escalating to $10.72 million in 2011. Peterson would be wise to let Johnson and his agent, Joel Segal, set the parameters for the top-paid backs before diving into a deal.

  • A lucrative extension could be even more challenging than normal this year. The Vikings have never had a running back with Peterson's talent and have never had the league's leading rusher ... until Peterson in 2008. They also have the lowest revenue base of any NFL team and are getting to the desperate stages in their quest for a new stadium. Despite that, the Vikings have shown a willingness to crack open the reserves if a big signing is in order (see the Jared Allen trade and extension, and the Brett Favre signing). However, they have an inordinate number of contracts coming due in the next year and a league without a long-term labor agreement. That makes back-room talk of extensions even stickier without knowing what kind of cap parameters will be in place in the future.

    Peterson didn't show up to minicamp, purportedly because it was the same weekend as Adrian Peterson Day in his hometown of Palestine, Texas. Now there is a feeling his contract may have had as much to do with his absence. He didn't expand on his denial last week, so it's impossible to know for sure how far over the horizon this becomes a public issue.

    What we do know is that if his contract is an issue, he could get more mileage out of being patient on and off the field.

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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