That’s how long it’s been since NFL running back Adrian Peterson has stepped foot on a football field in a Minnesota Vikings uniform. At one point in time, there was some glimmer of hope that Peterson would suit up again this season. But given the punishment that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down Tuesday afternoon, it’s pretty safe to throw optimism out the window.
Goodell sentenced Peterson to suspension without pay for violating the leagues personal conduct policy for domestic child abuse to his 4-year old son. That suspension will cause him to miss the remainder of the season. With that ruling, it’s high time that the Vikings start to look at life after All Day.
The all-pro running back has been with the team since 2007, yet the Vikings haven’t been a true contender in the NFC since 2009, where they were only one play away from representing the conference in the Super Bowl. Even then, it was Brett Favre who was the star leader and not Peterson (although it is fair to note that the Vikings also had Sidney Rice and a healthy Percy Harvin on that team as well). With all the records Peterson has broken and all the talent he possesses, none of it has been good enough to get the team to the ultimate prize. Even if Peterson were to shorten his suspension with a successful appeal, it’s been a long time since he’s been in practices or meetings, let alone games. On top of that, the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers are the clear front-runners for the NFC North Division; so playing him would be useless and impractical.
The team needs to take this time to evaluate their roster and build around the pieces they currently have for at least some attempt at being a future contender in this league. Minnesota can start that process by cutting ties with A.P.
This past offseason brought a new head coach, former Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, and a new quarterback, University of Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, to Minneapolis. The absence of Peterson has also made room for the emergence of rookie running back Jerick McKinnon. McKinnon has proven to be the most dynamic back on their roster, jumping ahead of Matt Asiata for the starting spot in week 5 after his breakout performance against the Atlanta Falcons in week 4. That game, McKinnon ran for 135 yards on 18 carries. McKinnon is averaging 4.9 yards per carry and has totaled 484 yards so far. Let’s add to this mix the addition of Cordarrelle Patterson last season, who’s slowly but surely showing signs of developing into a solid wide receiver. He should become more consistent now that the quarterback position is solidified. The new era of Vikings have already begun to take form.
Minnesota has to remember that not only will Peterson be over 30 by the end of his deal, but a) the value of the running back is not the same as it once was in yesterday’s game, and b) the value of Peterson’s reputation is not what it once was when this deal was constructed. His jersey was instantly ripped from store shelves, and given the scrutiny that Vikings front office received after reinstating Peterson to the roster after the initial charges were filed, the team may be forced to let him go anyway, just to avoid a public display of embarrassment.
There are three years and $45M left on Peterson’s contract, but none of it is guaranteed. If they cut him before next season, they would only take a $2.4M hit to their salary cap. Because he was on the commissioner’s exempt list, he was still being paid roughly $700K a week in his absence. The Vikings would save $13M in real money, and $13M in cap space, by parting with him. They are also 4-6 heading into week 12, so the chances of them landing a decent draft pick in 2015 is very high.
Peterson is still a quality player, and it would be foolish to assume his playing days are done. But the reality is, Peterson has provided no additional push for the Vikings to be a better team. This situation, as unfortunate as it is, has provided Minnesota an opportunity to see that they can survive without A.P. This situation has afforded the Vikings a chance to break free and rebuild from the bottom up. Parting with Peterson may be the only thing that makes sense for the team both financially and publicly.