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Determining Adrian Peterson's Trade Value

The Daily Norseman looks back at running back trades over the past 20 years to determine what Peterson's value might be in a trade.

Peterson waving...goodbye?
Peterson waving...goodbye?
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

With the latest rumors swirling about the Cardinals and Vikings working on a trade of Adrian Peterson, and it rumored to be for a 2nd round pick, reactions among fans and in the twitter-verse seem to be mixed, although slanted a little toward the negative.  I think it's time to sit back and try to look at this from an objective standpoint, that is, with the purple glasses off.

My opinion on this over a week ago (voiced in the comments section) was that, if Peterson would fetch anything greater than a 4th round pick, that had to be viewed as a win for the Vikings.  Because if the Vikings could get a 3rd rounder or better for Peterson, that would allow them to find a decent replacement in a draft that is deep at the running back position.  Anything less, and the team would have to sacrifice too much at the running back position by giving up Peterson.  About 5 days later, ESPN's John Clayton voiced a similar view in that he thought the trade market actually was about a 4th round pick for Peterson.  I'm not sure Clayton is right about that, but I find it interesting that we were both ball-parking a 4th rounder.  A brief look at the the history of running-back trades leads me to conclude that the Vikings can probably get more than a 4th, but they likely won't get a 1st round pick.

Consider the following trades that have involved running backs, and what kind of value those running backs were able to achieve.  The following is a selected list of running back starters who were traded within the last 20 years (non-starters like Bryce Brown, Kenjon Barner, etc) were left out.

  • 2015: LeSean McCoy (age 26) - Kiko Alonso
  • 2014: Darren Sproles (age 30) - 2014 5th Round Pick
  • 2014: LaGarrette Blount (age 26) - Jeff Demps and 2014 7th Round Pick
  • 2013: Trent Richardson (age 22) - 2014 1st Round Pick
  • 2011: Reggie Bush (age 26) - Jonathan Amaya and Swapping 6th Round Picks
  • 2011: Marshawn Lynch (age 24) - 2011 4th Round Pick and 2012 5th Round Pick
  • 2010: Laurence Maroney (age 25) - 2011 4th Round Pick
  • 2009: Lendale White/Kevin Vickerson (age 24) - 4th and 6th Round Picks
  • 2009: Leon Washington/7th Round Pick (age 26) - 5th Round Pick
  • 2007: Reuben Droughns (age 28) - WR Tim Carter
  • 2006: T.J. Duckett (age 26) - 3rd Round Pick (multi-team trade also involved WR)
  • 2005: Reuben Droughns (age 26) - DE  Ebenezer Ekuban and DT Michael Myers
  • 2004: Clinton Portis (age 22) - Champ Bailey, 2005 2nd Round Pick
  • 1998: Marshall Faulk (age 25) - 1999 2nd and 5th Round Pick
  • 1996: Jerome Bettis (age 24) - 1997 2nd Round Pick, 1998 4th Round Pick

In the list of fifteen starting caliber (or borderline starting caliber) running backs listed above, I will concede that none of them represent a close apples to apples comparison for Adrian Peterson's current situation.  The closest running backs on the list in terms of talent and production at the time they were traded would be LeSean McCoy and maybe Marshall Faulk.  McCoy was traded for a former 2nd round pick, LB Kiko Alonso, who flashed starter level ability before suffering an injury.  Faulk was traded for a 2nd and a 5th round pick.  Both netted good value, but neither got their team a 1st round pick.  However, both of them were at least 4 years younger than Adrian Peterson, and neither had been voted league MVP (Faulk wouldn't get the MVP until 3 years later), so it's not that fair of a comparison.  But still, if you're willing to accept that McCoy and Faulk are not as good as Peterson in terms of talent, then you have to concede that it would be better to get a 25 or 26 year old running back, than it is a 30 year old running back.  In other words, any gain in value Peterson might have when compared to those two running backs in terms of talent, is negated by the fact that he is also 4 years older, and has a legal situation that has tainted his image in the media.  Again, in both instances McCoy and Faulk were not able to get their respective team's a 1st round pick in trade.

Of the fifteen running backs on the list, only one was able to net a 1st round pick: Trent Richardson.  The next highest value another player got in trade was Clinton Portis who snagged a 2nd round pick and Champ Bailey.  While those two players earned the largest trade value, they are also the two youngest players on the list when they were traded, both being traded on their age 22 seasons.  The NFL places a premium on young age, because no matter how hard we try, no one can escape the effects of age; it catches up with everyone eventually.

So what is Adrian Peterson's real trade value?  It's really hard to say, but I think that while the Vikings (and by extension their fans) may want to see the team get a 1st round pick for their former MVP running back, if recent history is any indication, it will be difficult if not impossible to do.  The simple fact is this: in the last 20 years only one team in the NFL has traded for a running back that was 30-years old or older.  While that player (Darren Sproles) is certainly not on the same level talent-wise as Adrian Peterson, he only fetched a 5th round pick in return. Ultimately I felt that the Vikings would be lucky to get anything higher than  4th round pick for Adrian Peterson because of the value represented in the list above.  Only the youngest players with the highest potential earn the highest value.  Peterson is just not one of those kinds of running backs anymore.  When you also consider that his salary cap number is very high and that it would require a re-negotiation, I think a 1st round pick is pretty much out of the question for the Vikings at this stage.  With rumors flying all around the past couple of weeks about a trade of Adrian Peterson, if a 1st round pick was in the mix, then I think that Peterson would have already been traded.  Since he hasn't been traded yet, I would suspect that the team has not been able to get a team to give up a 1st rounder for him.

As we reported earlier today, the most current rumor has the Vikings trading Peterson and a 7th round pick to the Cardinals for a 2nd round pick.  This is good value for an aging running back that in my opinion has at best, 2 more years of solid production remaining.  It removes a significant portion of the salary cap off the books so that they can continue to add pieces in free agency this off-season and extend high performing draft picks like Harrison Smith, and eventually Xavier Rhodes.  And getting that extra 2nd rounder gives them ammunition if they want to move up from pick #11, or they could flip that extra 2nd rounder into another low-end 1st rounder too.  Or, they could simply use it to draft the best running back on the board in a draft that is loaded at the running back position.  With Jerrick Mckinnon still on the roster, the Vikings are in a good position to ease in a new-comer to the offense in a time-share; a situation they were forced into last year that still resulted in a top 10 rushing unit.

When you consider that Adrian Peterson has expressed frustration with the organization and it is unknown what his desire and motivation may be in playing for the Vikings in 2015, a trade would seem to satisfy both parties.  And if they can get a 2nd round pick in return, I would call that a win for the Vikings.  If the Vikings can't get at least a 2nd or 3rd round pick for Adrian Peterson though, then I would question such a move.  They will want to get enough draft compensation that they could find a replacement for Peterson in the draft, and anything less than a 3rd rounder will stunt their ability to get that done.  So if the Cardinals are seriously offering a 2nd round pick for Adrian Peterson, it is this bloggers opinion that the Vikings should take the deal.