With the exception of Antoine Winfield (DAMN YOU RICK SPIELMAN), the Minnesota Vikings have, ever since the end of the Brad Childress regime, been pretty decent to their players. Some might argue they weren't the best with Greg Jennings recently (talking about renegotiating his contract to keep him, then unceremoniously dumping him the moment they landed Mike Wallace), but for what it's worth he himself doesn't seem too burned by it. (Of course, Jennings is also an intelligent individual who is a class act, so maybe he just wouldn't make that public if he were.)
For example, they have (in my opinion) fairly rewarded players with lucrative contracts, even if they are typically structured to be relatively team-friendly. Kyle Rudolph is a great example of this, and Brandon Fusco is another. Jared Allen was allowed to receive every dime of his massive contract in an age where that is almost unheard of (yes, we did try to trade him midseason in his final year, but that was obviously with his blessing as well). And Mike Wallace has come to town with the team willing to pay him every dime of a bloated contract year as well, rather than apparently even attempting a restructure.
And while it wouldn't appear that this relative friendliness has drawn FAs to town simply because of reputation, it still seems to make our players happy. Pat Williams wasn't the happiest when the Vikings didn't bring him back, but he was still thrilled to return on a one-day contract to officially retire as one of the Purple Brethren. Jared Allen, too, has indicated a hope and desire that this will happen for him when his days as a player have concluded. And the aforementioned Jennings seems more than happy to make the Twin Cities his permanent home, although that might have more to do with a simple preference for the area than a fondness for the Vikings per se.
If the Vikings start to pull winning season together- and with Teddy Bridgewater and Mike Zimmer in town, there's a lot of reason to believe that will be happening- then the Vikings could be poised to become a highly coveted destination for free agents (as well as a place current players would prefer to remain) thanks to this. While football is a brutal business, and players should be retained only for value and not for ‘kindness' or ‘sentimentalism', treating players fairly and rewarding hard work/ good results on the field can go a long way for a team.
The Vikings tried to go this route with their former face-of-the-franchise superstar, Adrian Peterson. They deactivated him against the Patriots when his legal troubles began, but this was relatively natural- after all, there was uncertainty at that initial moment regarding whether Peterson needed to turn himself in to authorities in Texas. They then defended him on the podium and tried to re-activate him for the game against the Saints* until all hell broke loose and everyone from Radisson to the very governor of Minnesota himself cried out against it.
The Vikings then worked with Roger Goodell to find a way to keep AP off the field- all while still paying him. The Vikings could have suspended him a few games for ‘conduct detrimental to the team', fully within their rights by the CBA, but opted instead to go a route that didn't truly punish him. Honestly, at that moment, if that's not loyalty shown by a franchise to a player then I don't know what is.
All of that goodwill apparently evaporated when Kevin Warren worked further with Goodell to keep Peterson off of the field for the remainder of the 2014 season after Peterson pleaded guilty. Now, for a minute, let me say this- I can actually, honestly, and legitimately understand why that might have ticked Peterson off some. If AP truly took the plea deal on the understanding that it would allow him to resume playing football, then I could see the burn when he feels his team was the agent behind that not occurring. Promoting Kevin Warren after the fact likely didn't help. Again, in the interest of fairness, I can understand the sting there.
But that sting should have evaporated with time. Kevin Warren, and by extension the Minnesota Vikings franchise, did not do this maliciously. They didn't do it because they ‘hate' Adrian Peterson. They did it out of sheer survival, for the ‘good of the empire'... as Peterson himself put it, when he effectively admitted he understood their reasoning. Bringing Peterson back during the 2014 season was a major risk for the franchise, threatening sponsorship money and- more importantly- political goodwill when the new, partially tax funded stadium is still under construction. Warren, the Wilfs, and the Vikings overall didn't have much of an option. They needed to keep AP off of the field. Maybe they really, really wanted him out there- but they needed him off of it.
Yet again, if you look at everything that transpired before that, you see a franchise willing to still stand by their guy. They acknowledged all Peterson had done for the team, both on and off the field, throughout his tenure. They had already acknowledged that previously with an enormous, market-shattering contract. This team ran through AP, and more than just on the field, and the Vikings were willing to remember and acknowledge that even with the promise of a new era in town via Teddy Bridgewater.
Adrian Peterson, in case you haven't noticed, has acted like a total ass this offseason regardless of all of that.
And by the way, yes, it's Peterson acting like an ass- not Ben Dogra. OK, maybe Dogra is acting like an ass, but it's not his decision really to do so. If AP wanted to look at all this team has done for him on the whole, to see that the fanbase- even with a reluctant portion amidst it- was still willing to embrace his return with open arms and root for the redemption story of its fallen hero, and realize that he wanted to stay ‘home'- then that's exactly the sentiment that Dogra would be expressing. When Dogra outright tells reporters that he doesn't want Peterson in Minnesota, what's really happening is Peterson himself is saying he doesn't want to be in Minnesota. Agents may advise their clients but they don't outright make these kinds of decisions for them. If a client wants to play for a team, the agent can yell, beg, plead, cry, scream about it all they want- but if that's what the client wants at the end of the day, that's what the agent expresses. And vice-versa, as we're seeing right now. Dogra's statements on Monday were far too direct to not have originated with his client's wishes.
For all the Vikings have done for Peterson, including an apparent willingness to pay him every dime of a large contract (at least for this season), and for the general fairness that they have evidently treated the vast majority of their players over the past few years, they now effectively have one choice- play hardball and force Peterson to stay.
Now, of course, that evaporates should a trade worthy of his services emerge, but with basically one team available for just such a trade (the Cardinals, again if you've been living under a rock... which, by the way, is probably a great decision and you really should stop reading and go back under it for a while), and a draft that's considered deep with feature backs, that trade is very unlikely to come together.
The last malcontent this team had to deal with- Percy Harvin- was jettisoned in just such a manner. Nobody really could argue that the trade with the Seahawks wasn't absolutely worth letting Harvin go on his headache-inducing (no pun) ways. The Vikings didn't let Harvin dictate his fate- instead, they made a savvy trade.
Treating players fairly must work both ways for it to be effective for the team. Treating a franchise player like a franchise player- both with a lucrative contract and then with supportive actions (again, paying him while he wasn't on the field, backing him publicly behind podiums, etc.)- is nice, but letting a franchise player suddenly dictate what a team will or won't do is a dangerous precedent to set. Peterson received a contract rewarding him for what he had done (as well as what he was expected to continue doing), but now the team needs to leverage that fact to remind him that the flip side is it means the team gets to decide his fate. This message is necessary, in my opinion, to prevent future divas (or outright asses) from thinking they get to tell the Vikings FO what to do.
Recall back to the epic explosion of the Childress era, when Randy Moss was released. At the time, it was reported that he had demanded instead that Zygi Wilf fire Brad Childress. While Childress did deserve to get fired- a fate handed down just a few weeks later- Wilf did the best thing by instead allowing his idiot head coach to go forward with releasing a mercurial, troublesome player that we had traded a draft pick for just prior. While the whole episode was as circus-esque as possible, and probably a great summary of the Childress era on the whole, Wilf was still wise enough to know that allowing a player to demand the head coach be fired would set a horrific precedent in the locker room.
Right now we face a very similar situation. Allowing a player to demand he be released, or traded for less than the value the Vikings have set for his services, will set a dangerous precedent- again, especially considering all the Vikings have already done for said franchise player. It practically will scream "Come to Minnesota, you can walk all over the franchise!". The Vikings don't have a reputation for playing ridiculous hardball with players, unlike the Bengals when they faced a similar situation with Carson Palmer. (And let's not forget the bounty that Palmer ultimately netted for them after they did force him to retire.) So this won't hurt the image of the Vikings as a franchise in regards to potential free agents. Instead, it simply reinforces that the inmates don't run the asylum in Minnesota.
Again, treating players fairly requires you to be fair- not ‘nice'. Peterson, via his agent, is trying to force the Vikings to do something they don't want to do- and the Vikings cannot allow that to happen. Some may fear a hold out or even a locker room cancer, but that's up to Zimmer to handle- something I believe he's well capable of (even if not thrilled by*). The Vikings have bent over backwards to treat Peterson well, even if he wasn't happy about Warren making franchise necessary moves at the end of last season. Enough is enough now. Peterson is acting like an ass, and fairness dictates therefore that he be treated like an ass. He doesn't need more guaranteed money, he doesn't need to be traded away for less than the Vikings want. He needs to be either traded for exactly what the Vikings want in return, or forced to honor his contract- even if that means he's going to hold out.
It will send the message- ‘come to Minnesota, we are fair. If you are a good player and a decent guy, we will reward you and treat you well. But don't come here thinking you're the boss.' And that's a message the Vikings need to back.
*Poor Mike Zimmer. "Come to Minnesota, they said! It'll be great, they said!" I seriously hope the Wilfs sent him one helluva fruit basket after the season ended.