With just one game remaining in the Minnesota Vikings’ 2016 NFL season, the time has come for questions to be raised about whether or not some players will be back with the purple again in 2017. Obviously, the biggest name among those is that of running back Adrian Peterson, whose status with the Vikings will be the biggest topic of conversation for the next month.
Peterson has a cap figure of $18 million for the 2017 season, including a base salary of $11.5 million. The Vikings have to make a decision on whether or not to pay Peterson’s base salary by 5 February, which is the day of the Super Bowl for this season. If the team chooses to release Peterson at that time, he won’t count for anything against their salary cap for 2017, freeing up $18 million worth of space.
From behind the great E$PN paywall, John Clayton posted an article yesterday where he asked five anonymous NFL executives about what they thought Peterson’s fate with the team would be. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but if it’s representative of the sentiment around the league, it’s very possible that we’ve seen the last of Peterson in a Vikings’ uniform.
All five of the executives were in agreement that there was no way that the Vikings should be bringing Peterson back at his present $18 million cap figure. One of them suggested offering Peterson a pay cut.
Maybe it's time to move on, but I would see if there is a way to make it work. What I would do is try to take his salary down to around $7 million. I'm thinking that is more than generous for him at his age. It gives him respect for what he has done and shows the organization isn't willing to be too cold. Clearly, though, you can't have him at $18 million.
At the end of the article, Clayton projects that if Peterson were to hit the open market, it would be “hard to figure” him getting more than $4 million in free agency. Asking Peterson to go from a salary that could top out at $18 million down to something in the $6 or $7 million range would be a significant drop, but if that’s what the Vikings were to offer, it’s more than he’d be likely to get anywhere else.
Three of the executives said that they would simply cut ties, largely because Peterson’s production is no longer worth the cost.
I'd cut him. I'd cut him because the salary I would offer him he would consider to be an insult, and I don't think you want him to go through that. You don't want to insult someone who has been that important to your franchise.
. . .
He's older. He's had too many injuries. He's had a lot of wear and tear on the body. He's also missed 29 of his past 49 games dating back to the end of the 2013 season. Having Peterson last year for Teddy Bridgewater was great because it gave [Bridgewater] a ground game to work with even though it took him out of shotgun, which he was more effective [in]. Thanks to Adrian, the Vikings made the playoffs, but it's a different dynamic with Bradford there. He doesn't need an older legend leading the way. He just needs some running offense and better linemen.
. . .
You can't take the position that you pay for what a player has done for you in the past. You pay for a player can do for you now and in the future. Well, there isn't much future in 32-year-old running backs. Just look at the numbers during the years.
To that last point, the last running back over the age of 32 to break the 1,000-yard rushing mark was Ricky Williams, who ran for 1,121 yards in 2009. Since 1990, only four running backs over the age of 32 have topped the 1,000-yard plateau, and only one of those four was on a team that made it to the playoffs. Sure, there’s a chance that Peterson could potentially come back and light it up in 2017, but the odds would certainly seem to be against it.
The last executive had a slightly different take, which was to leave the decision up to Vikings’ coach Mike Zimmer.
Mike Zimmer has a good feel for a team. A lot of people in the organization didn't want Adrian back because of the incident with his child that led to the suspension in 2014. Peterson had issues with the team and ownership. There was a tension there. Zimmer calmed things and made it work for the team and Adrian. I'd follow his lead.
Zimmer does have a good feel for his team, one recent hiccup notwithstanding. But even if Zimmer decides that he does want Peterson back, again, the Vikings simply can’t do it at Peterson’s current salary figure, which takes us back to what the other four executives in this case have already stated.
In order for a Peterson return to be realistic or feasible for the Vikings, he would likely have to be willing to accept a pay cut and a reduced role with the team, as the Vikings would be wise to draft a replacement for him in this year’s NFL Draft whether they bring him back or not.
At this point, the best path for Peterson to stay in Minnesota could be to undertake the sort of role that another Hall of Fame running back did late in his career, that being Marcus Allen. Allen, who was a great back for the Raiders in his prime, had a falling out with owner Al Davis, and was let go by the Raiders at the age of 32. He then signed on with the Kansas City Chiefs and was used largely as a short yardage/goal line back.
Allen played for the Chiefs for five seasons from 1993 to 1997. In those five seasons for the Chiefs, he averaged less than 190 carries a season and didn’t top the 900-yard rushing mark. But he found the end zone 44 times in those five seasons, including two years where he rushed for double-digit touchdowns. Allen also caught 141 passes in those five seasons for the Chiefs, and though Peterson might not be able to provide that, he could potentially be a devastating short-yardage type of option in this late stage of his career if the Vikings could keep his legs fresh in a more limited role.
Even if Peterson were to agree to take a pay cut to come back to Minnesota in 2017, there’s a good chance that he could still be overpaid, at least relative to the other top backs in the league and what they produce. The Vikings’ offense going forward is going to be centered around either Sam Bradford or Teddy Bridgewater going forward, and with Peterson’s still-limited skill set, he’s probably going to have to share a significant part of the load if he comes back to Minnesota, and in particular if the team retains the services of current interim offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
There’s nearly as much of a chance that the Minnesota Vikings will give you or I $18 million next season then there is of them giving Adrian Peterson that much. If the team did decide to completely cut ties with him, they could probably get a lot of offensive line help for $18 million. Sure, they could get some decent offensive line help for $11 or $12 million, too, but they could get even more for $18 million. There are other moves the Vikings could make to potentially free up cap space, but Peterson obviously represents the biggest chunk of change they could give themselves.
Is Adrian Peterson going to be back in Minnesota for the 2017 season? That’s the big question of the offseason for the Vikings, and by Super Bowl Sunday, we’re likely going to have the answer.