The Twins and Vikings have taken their identities from two superstars over the past decade in MVPs Joe Mauer and Adrian Peterson. But both franchises are reaching similar points with their former cornerstone players, facing questions about their value to the teams and the cost of their contracts.
For the Vikings, Peterson's return to the team is up in the air despite the fact that everyone from team management to head coach Mike Zimmer to returning players have said that Peterson still has value to this football team.
Peterson is due $18 million for the 2017 season, and there's simply no way the Vikings can afford to pay that to a running back who has averaged 544 yards and 6.7 games played over the past three seasons. Of course, one of those seasons was Peterson's return to form when he led the NFL with 1,485 yards and played 16 games in 2015. That's the issue the Vikings have, because if any running back could return to that form at 32 years old, Peterson is the one.
Odds and finances
But the odds are not in his favor. Only six running backs have rushed for 1,000-plus yards as a 32-year-old — Walter Payton (1,333 in 1986), Ricky Williams (1,121 in 2009), Ottis Anderson (1,023 in 1989), Emmitt Smith (1,021 in 2001), Mike Anderson (1,014 in 2005) and James Brooks (1,004 in 1990).
The other big issue is that, besides Peterson, no running back is scheduled to make more than $8.9 million next season.
This is why the Vikings and Peterson are negotiating, and why every team in the NFL has been rumored to want Peterson, for the right price, if he becomes a free agent. If Peterson is healthy there's a decent chance he's one of the best running backs in the NFL, no matter how poorly he performed in 2016.
But if Peterson performs to his previous three-year averages, 544 yards and around six or seven games, that's worth next to nothing for most franchises.
For the Vikings, though, it may be about more than historical averages and Peterson's contract. There has to be an incentive to both parties to want him to finish his career with the Vikings.
He is fewer than 2,000 yards from becoming the No. 5 rusher in NFL history. He's 13 rushing touchdowns away from equaling Payton for fourth all-time in that category. And with the team's current defensive standouts and the need for a more balanced offense, there's no question that Peterson could improve this team, and potentially help it win a Super Bowl.
How much that is worth to the Vikings and how little Peterson is willing to play for will be the big questions.
Twins and Mauer
The big difference between Peterson's gigantic contract of $18 million for next season and Mauer's gigantic contract of $23 million for each of the 2017 and 2018 seasons is that Mauer's contract is guaranteed and there's no question that he'll be with the Twins.
When Mauer signed his eight-year, $184 million deal at age 27 in 2011, he was one year away from free agency. There was no question that Mauer, who was coming off three straight All-Star appearances, three straight Gold Gloves and three straight Silver Slugger awards, not to mention an MVP in 2009, would have gotten even higher offers if he had hit the free-agent market.
But six years later things look different.
For the first three years of his deal, Mauer held up his end of the bargain, hitting .313 with a .399 on-base percentage, reaching two All-Star Games and winning another Silver Slugger award. But after Mauer's concussion in late 2013 and several injury-plagued seasons since then, his production is no longer remotely in line with his contract.
His move from catcher to first base because of those concussion issues only made his production less valuable. While Mauer remains one of the Twins' best at getting on base and is an excellent fielder, his batting average has dropped and his power has sagged.
From 2014 through 2016 he's hit .267 with a .353 on-base percentage while averaging eight home runs and 57 RBI per season.
With the Twins having a bunch of young prospects making the leap to the major league club, it will remain interesting to see if Mauer can start to produce again and remain healthy, and if he can't, how the team handles the final two years of his deal.
Mauer, who will be 34 this season, says he wants to continue playing for some time, and there's no reason to think he couldn't potentially go to another club on a much smaller deal once his contract is up with the Twins. But his home is Minnesota, and he has twin girls who started school here recently.
There's also a chance the club and manager Paul Molitor will continue to find a way to use his veteran experience and approach at the plate to help this young team.
Either way, one thing seems to be certain: The Twins and the Vikings are reaching crossroads with two of the greatest players in their long histories.
• The Vikings will miss the first-round draft pick they lost in the Sam Bradford trade. If you want evidence, consider that seven of their 11 defensive starters last season were first-round picks: Terence Newman (fifth overall), Anthony Barr (ninth), Trae Waynes (11th), Chad Greenway (17th), Sharrif Floyd (23), Xavier Rhodes (25) and Harrison Smith (29).
• Speaking of Rhodes, ESPN's Bill Barnwell wrote that one of the smartest moves the Vikings can make this offseason is to sign Rhodes to an extension, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Like Harrison Smith last year, Rhodes could demand a top contract.
• A nice note came in from readers Chris and Maria Guertin, whose 9-year-old son, Owen, went through brain surgery earlier this month at Boston Children's Hospital. Following a successful surgery Chris sent a tweet to Gophers coach P.J. Fleck showing Owen with his Gophers blanket at the hospital. Owen had been to Gophers football camps in 2015 and 2016, and Chris reported that Fleck immediately offered to call and talked with Owen for 20 minutes, encouraging him to "tackle his therapy with all of his energy."
• Jake Irvin, a Bloomington Jefferson grad whom the Twins drafted in the 37th round in 2015, is pitching for Oklahoma in his sophomore season after being a freshman All-America last season. Irvin started the year by throwing seven scoreless innings with one hit and 10 strikeouts in a 6-2 victory over Long Beach State.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. firstname.lastname@example.org