As we all know, Adrian Peterson has been suspended for the rest of this season, and cannot return until April 15th of next year, and then certain conditions must be met. It's a significant body blow to the team, but one that shouldn't come as a total surprise, all things considered. With Peterson's 2014 season officially over, pending an appeal to the guy that, you know, suspended him for the rest of the season in the first place, where do we go from here with regards to Peterson and the Vikings?
As I see it, the Vikings have a few options available to them, so let's take a look at what course of action they could take.
Keep him: If this report by Bart Hubbuch is any indication, that's exactly what the Vikings intend to do. According to this story, the Wilfs are furious that Roger Goodell suspended Peterson for the rest of the year, and fully intended to have him return to the team this season. His coaches and teammates have expressed a lot of support for him, so it appears that the entire organization is ready to welcome him back when he is able to return. The initial anger from fans is over, and although a lot of fans were/are appalled with his actions, he's been through the legal system, and are ready to move on with things. Sponsors are also starting to return, so it appears that there won't be the uproar a lot of people anticipated when we got to this point in the process. When you add in the way the NFL has handled Peterson's suspension and fast forward to next April, with even more distance in the rear view mirror since the original allegations came to light, I see little to no fan resistance to the Vikings reinstating Peterson.
From a pure football perspective, this makes sense, too. Having Peterson in the backfield can only help a developing Teddy Bridgewater, who has had his ups and downs in his rookie season due in no small part to an inconsistent running game. Right now, today, if you're going to make me pick what option the Vikings are going to choose, I think they ride the storm out with Peterson, and he'll be on the field next season.
Trade him: Vikings GM Rick Spielman said he has no interest in trading Adrian Peterson. He also said the exact same thing about enigmatic WR Percy Harvin...about four months before he traded enigmatic WR Percy Harvin to Seattle for some draft picks that have worked out pretty well for the Vikings. Assuming Peterson is fully reinstated next Spring, he's going to be a player that, if nothing else, more than one team will want to kick the tires on. Would he command a first round draft pick? With the way running backs are currently being devalued in the NFL these days, that seems a stretch, but then again...it's Adrian Peterson. No one, and I mean no one, thought the Vikings could get a first and third rounder for Harvin, so like the old saying goes, all you need is one other team to be interested.
Even though I believe the Vikings will hang on to Peterson...if the proverbial 'offer you can't refuse' is made, you take it. Another bevy of draft picks for a running back that's going to be 30 is something that you have to think long and hard about, especially for a young team that's still rebuilding their roster. And with a cap saving of $13 million in 2015...you can make an argument that the Vikings running game is good enough without Peterson, and that's a lot of cabbage that can go to shore up some other holes on the roster come free agency time.
Release him: Speaking of cap savings...Peterson's contract runs through 2017, and he's due $12.75 million in 2015 (with a $2.4 million signing bonus), $14.75 million in 2016, and $16.75 million in 2017. According to Ian Rapoport, Peterson has no more guaranteed money owed him, and if the Vikings cut him in the off season, prior to June 1st, all they would incur is the dead money penalty of $2.4 million next year, and as I said earlier, realize a cap savings of $13 million. That's not insignificant, and something to keep in mind if, for some reason, the Vikings feel they need to move in another direction and are unable to find a trade partner.
Of all the scenarios, this seems the least realistic, if current reports out there regarding the Wilfs reaction to this are true. Yes, he has a big salary in 2015, '16, and '17, but let's not worry about the last two years right now. 2015 is a pretty manageable salary, all things considered, and the Vikings have absorbed larger ones in the past with no salary cap issues (Jared Allen in 2012 and 2013, for example). Considering recent history, there's nothing to really indicate the Vikings will cut Peterson, unless something we know nothing about right now becomes a factor down the road.