He’s an aging running back with a huge contract in a league that no longer values (at least not nearly as much) players at his position. His off-field woes seemed to spiral further every week into a public relations nightmare between Peterson and both Vikings fans and officials. That he had no leverage — and was grasping at attempts to get any — was always going to be a factor, but squeaky wheels become more than just a nuisance at certain points.
Indeed, the biggest reason I personally thought Peterson and the Vikings were through was by using the past as prologue. I had seen this movie before, where the unhappy Viking is dealt away. In fact, this was Part IV (Adrian’s revenge) when it came to Vikings and offensive superstars of the modern era. Remember:
Randy Moss: Trade rumors started with Moss shortly after the end of the 2004 season, a regular season that infamously ended with him leaving the field early against Washington and then mooning the crowd during the playoffs in Green Bay. The Vikings denied the rumors consistently, including this quote in early February of 2005 from vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski: “I don’t know why this thing keeps being brought up. It hasn’t even been discussed at all.” Less than a month later, Moss was traded to Oakland.
Daunte Culpepper: In January of 2006, after a disastrous start to his 2005 season and then a devastating knee injury, Culpepper and his agent tried to talk with the Vikings about a raise. Really, this happened. The Vikings told Culpepper no, and tensions rose. By late February, things were really boiling. But Vikings owner Zygi Wilf, asked if Culpepper was going to play for the Vikings in 2006, said: “That is our plan, yes. Always was.” Two weeks later, Culpepper said he wanted to be traded or released. A week after that, he was traded to Miami.
Percy Harvin: The mercurial WR was hurt midway through the 2012 season and essentially vanished after that, leading to speculation that he wanted out. Trade chatter continued into February, but in the middle of that month Vikings GM Rick Spielman said, “We have no intent of trading Percy Harvin.” Less than a month later, Harvin was traded to Seattle.
Peterson went through many of the same machinations as the three previously traded Vikings. What I neglected to factor in, of course, is that Moss was 28 and in the prime of his career when he was traded. Culpepper was 29, and even coming off a terrible knee injury that’s an age at which a QB figures to have many very good season left. Harvin wasn’t even 25 when he was dispatched to Seattle.
Those three had trade value; Peterson, with a huge contract and on the wrong side of 30 — a much different age for a running back than a WR or QB, and in an era where draft picks are gold — did not. The Vikings wisely stood pat, recognizing that Peterson’s value was greater to them than it was in any trade. Peterson eventually came to recognize that if he wanted to be paid in 2015, there was only one team that was going to do it.
And so Tuesday arrived, and the movie’s ending was different. Peterson sounded sincere, and we shouldn’t doubt his tone in apologizing and attempting to mend fences. The Vikings, too, should be believed when they say they are genuinely happy to have him back on the field.
But let’s not fool ourselves: this marriage was saved by pragmatism, not love. The 2015 season is a truce, and we’ll see where it goes from here.