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Let’s Talk About Adrian Peterson

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There probably won’t be anything you haven’t heard in this post, but it’s something that needs to be said.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Last Sunday, the Minnesota Vikings welcomed running back Adrian Peterson. He saw his first action since Week 2, carrying the ball six times for 22 yards and fumbling once in Minnesota’s humiliating 34-6 loss against the Indianapolis Colts. Now, after appearing in all of 12 plays against Indianapolis, the word is already circulating that he might not be ready for Saturday’s game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

For everyone that hasn’t come to grips with it already, we’re almost certainly looking at the final two weeks of the Adrian Peterson era in Minnesota. His salary cap figure for the 2017 season is $18 million, by far the biggest cap hit for a running back in the National Football League. According to Spotrac, the second-highest cap hit at the running back position for 2017 is LeSean McCoy of the Buffalo Bills, who won’t even hit half of Peterson’s current number ($8.875 million).

There’s absolutely no justification for keeping Peterson around at his current salary figure. There isn’t a hell of a lot of justification for keeping him around at half of his current salary cap figure. While Peterson may or may not be among the best pure runners in the National Football League at this point, his deficiencies more than outweigh his strengths. Sing along if you know the words.

  • He doesn’t run very well out of the shotgun.
  • He isn’t a great pass catcher.
  • He either can’t or won’t pass block.
  • He consistently manages to put the football on the ground at the worst possible times.

Those things make Adrian Peterson a two-down running back, at best. There’s a word that’s used to describe two-down running backs in today’s National Football League, and that word is “unemployed.” They’re damn sure not making $18 million. If you look at the list of running backs that are getting paid the big dollars in today’s NFL, you’re not going to find any that come off the field on third downs. Guys like McCoy, DeMarco Murray, Ezekiel Elliott, and so on are guys that are effective on every down, not just on the first two, and can pick up opposing blitzers when called upon. In ten NFL seasons, Peterson hasn’t managed to figure out how to do any of those things, so the odds that he “gets it” going into his eleventh NFL season are somewhere between slim and none.

The Vikings came to the $18 million salary cap figure for the 2017 season when they extended/reconfigured Peterson’s contract after a 2014 season that he missed entirely due to his own actions, and then came to the conclusion that he had somehow been wronged by the team. In bizarro world, that conclusion makes sense. Here in reality, it’s 100% backwards. Despite everything that happened in 2014, the Vikings made a business decision and decided that Peterson was worth more to them as a player than he was as a trade chip when nobody met their price in a deal. Now they’re at a point where Peterson has no trade value because of his salary cap figure, and based on the tail end of the 2015 season and what we’ve seen this season, his on-field skills are no longer enough, either.

On 11 November 2015 against the Oakland Raiders, Peterson had his last “Adrian Peterson” game, when he carried the ball 26 times for 203 yards against the Oakland Raiders, and sealed the game with an 80-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter. In the 11 games he’s played since then (including the postseason), he’s carried the ball 192 times for 642 yards (3.3 yards/carry) and six touchdowns. Nearly a quarter of those yards came in one game against Atlanta in 2015, where he gained 158 yards. In three of his last four games, he has averaged less than two yards per carry.

Yes, the Vikings’ offensive line stinks. We know that. It stunk in 2015, too, and starting after that game against the Raiders (or after that game against the Falcons, if you prefer), Peterson’s level of play went straight into the toilet. We’ve spent years watching Peterson overcome bad offensive line play to make things happen. We’re not seeing that anymore. My guess is that we won’t see that happen anymore.

Sure, there’s a chance that Peterson could go to another team and light up the NFL, I suppose. But, in all seriousness, what offense in the NFL is going to configure itself to Adrian Peterson’s strengths the way the Vikings have throughout his career? I certainly can’t think of one off the top of my head. Is he willing to be a complimentary piece somewhere? I suppose stranger things have happened, but with the way Peterson handled the situation following the 2014 season, that would be an awfully strange thing to have happen. He still seems to be under the impression that he can run like he’s 25 years old. Realistically, it appears that Father Time has finally managed to catch up with him. At some point, the prospect of Peterson suddenly exploding for a team that isn’t the Vikings is a risk that the Vikings are going to have to take.

The prospect of freeing up $18 million in salary cap space for this coming offseason, in addition to the running back class of 2017 being absolutely loaded, should pretty much spell the end of the Adrian Peterson era in Minnesota. Moving forward, the offensive side of the ball for the Vikings is going to be built around either Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater, and until the latter can definitively show that he’s ready to play quarterback in the NFL again following his injury, we have to assume it’s the former. The offensive line for the Vikings doesn’t require a little bit of patchwork, but rather almost a full demolition and rebuild both through the draft and free agency. An extra $18 million to buy materials with could go a long way towards fixing the position that, for the second off-season in a row, will be the Vikings’ most glaring weakness.

Adrian Peterson will go down as the greatest running back in the history of the Minnesota Vikings, and one of the greatest in the history of the National Football League. He’s provided fans of the Minnesota Vikings with a lot of fun times and good memories over his 11 seasons in Minnesota. But it’s time for Peterson and the Vikings to part ways, both from a financial standpoint and an on-field one.