Adrian Peterson's career in Minnesota, even with two knee injuries and a near season long suspension, is first ballot Hall of Fame worthy.
He is one of the three best running backs I have ever watched play the game of football in my life at the professional level. The other two are Barry Sanders and Walter Payton. Those three are in a class by themselves, and I mean this as no disrespect to some other great backs I have watched play, to include Franco Harris, Bo Jackson, Emmitt Smith, and a slew of other backs that currently have a bust in Canton.
But there was something special about Sweetness, Barry, and Purple Jesus.
But as age and injuries appear to be catching Peterson faster than any defensive player could, the Vikings must look at the hard reality we've all seen coming for the last couple of seasons: the Adrian Peterson Era in Minnesota is coming to a close, and it could very well be at the end of the 2016 season.
With the announcement a short while ago that Peterson is set to have surgery Thursday for his torn meniscus and could be out 3-4 months, if not the season, we have quite possibly seen the last of AP in a Vikings uniform.
Why? For one, let's look at some cold hard numbers. So far in 2016, Peterson has rushed 31 times for 50 yards, a paltry 1.9 average. I get that the offensive line has had issues, but Peterson has left yards on the field, too. One of the things that made him a truly unique runner over the years was an ability to cut to the outside if nothing was available, win the race to the edge, and hit the second level.
And when he did that, it was football poetry.
In the two games he's played in 2016, Peterson doesn't seem to have that quick lateral burst to the edge, and he has yet to win a footrace to the perimeter. Maybe it's because he hasn't had a fighting chance on most carries, but even as late as last year, he had that lateral move, even when the blocking collapsed in front of him. He doesn't seem to have that anymore. Admittedly, if the o-line was better, though, Peterson's numbers would be better; no one is denying that. It just seems like his ability to make something out of nothing, along with his ability to overcome eight and nine men in the box, seems to have been greatly diminished.
Secondly, Peterson is simply too expensive now. The Vikings are not going to keep him on the roster at the price his current contract demands, they just aren't. In 2017, he has a salary cup number of $18,000,000, with a base salary of $11,750,000, and a roster bonus of $6,000,000 due the third day of the league year. But the thing to realize here is that although 18 million is a big number...none of the money is guaranteed, and there is no salary cap hit if the Vikings release or trade him before the third day of the league year. At this point, that 18 million (along with a Sam Bradford re-structure) would be much better spent on shoring up other areas of the team, like the offensive line, and address running back either in the draft or free agency.
So what are the options moving forward? Well, for this year at least, the Vikings have signed Ronnie Hillman, so it looks like Minnesota will roll with McKinnon, Asiata, and Hillman for the remainder of the season. At least for now, anyway. But for next season and beyond, let's take a look:
Sign a free agent: It could be a good short term option, but that kind of depends on how the current crop of backs that are on the roster fare. I really like Jerick McKinnon as the next feature back for the Vikings, if we're being completely honest with each other. I think he is a skilled runner and receiver, and can pose some matchup problems for a lot of defenses. In a fairly decent sample size, he's played very well, and I think if Minnesota goes with McKinnon, the running back position will be fine.
Make a trade: I just don't see the Vikings trading for a running back...but then again, I didn't see the Sam Bradford trade coming, either. If they do go this route, I don't see one made for an every down, starting running back...but again, Rick Spielman has surprised us before, and anything is possible. Unless there could be a player for player type deal done, like say Jarius Wright for a back, it just seems remote, especially since the Vikings are already down a first round pick in next year's draft.
Speaking of the draft: Minnesota could address the issue in the draft, but I don't know that it will be early. I mean, for one, they don't have a first round pick because of the Bradford trade, but even if they did I wouldn't want to see them draft a running back. But a third or fourth round pick? Yeah, I could see that, very easy.
But whatever the road ahead is for the running back position with the Vikings, it doesn't look like it will be a road traveled by Adrian Peterson anymore, and his Hall of Fame career with the Vikings will end not with a bang, but with a torn meniscus.
And that just stinks.