Vikings' top priority? Secure AP long-term

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 18, 2011 - 9:07 AM

Hall of Fame back Emmitt Smith said the team must act quickly.

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Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28)

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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The Vikings' offseason "To-Do" list never seemed longer than this past weekend, when both of the team's division rivals made the NFC Championship Game.

But just in case the list isn't daunting enough, Emmitt Smith, the NFL's career rushing leader, said giving Adrian Peterson a long-term contract should rank at or near the top. Smith went so far as to say he would hold out if he were Peterson and the Vikings didn't come up with a suitable long-term deal. Peterson's current contract, which pays him a base salary of $10.7 million in 2011, expires after next season.

"I believe the Minnesota Vikings shouldn't force Adrian to [hold out]," Smith, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, said in a phone interview on Friday. "It's amazing how teams want players to be committed to them, but they aren't committed to players. In Adrian Peterson's case, he is a special kind of guy. And if the Minnesota Vikings believe in Adrian Peterson the way I think they do, then they will do something so that he doesn't have to make that decision to hold out."

It's obvious from watching the divisional playoff games over the weekend that the Vikings need a young, franchise quarterback and multiple defensive backs to help them deal with Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and Chicago's Jay Cutler for years and years to come. They also need, among other things, to try to re-sign key potential free agents such as Sidney Rice, Chad Greenway and Ryan Longwell.

But Smith has a point. Peterson is, after all, the face of the franchise. He's a perennial All-Pro selection with an NFL-high 5,782 yards rushing since he joined the league in 2007. And he's only 25, which means he's young enough to grow with and help a young quarterback develop that key balance offensively.

"I love watching Adrian run," Smith said. "I think he's a hard-nosed running back. But I also think that he's going to miss a guy like Brett Favre, which is going to hurt his chances for racking up big yardage. So until the Vikings get a quarterback in there to alleviate some of the pressure on Adrian, I think he's going to struggle a little bit."

Peterson and his agent, Ben Dogra, no doubt will be looking for something long-term in the neighborhood of about $25 million guaranteed. That's a lot of money for a running back, but Peterson has earned it and is a lower risk because of his youth and unquestionable passion for the game.

Smith knows about passion for the game, having played it for 15 seasons before retiring at age 35 with 18,355 yards. He also knows a thing or two about holdouts.

In 1993, he held out and the Cowboys started 0-2. The Cowboys then signed Smith and weren't disappointed. They won the Super Bowl while Smith became the only player in NFL history to win the rushing title, league MVP and Super Bowl MVP in the same season.

"What happens is if a team puts a guy like Adrian in a position where he has no choice but to hold out, you're irritating a key guy in your franchise and forcing him to do something he does not want to do," Smith said. "You're alienating a player because your actions speak louder than your words. You're creating strife between the player and the organization, and also the community of Minnesota. It's early still, and the Vikings have a lot of things they have to take care of, but nobody should want to go down that road with Adrian Peterson."

Peterson already ranks 83rd on the NFL's career rushing list. Among active career rushing leaders, he's 11th and the youngest of those 11 by two years. The Jets' LaDainian Tomlinson is the active rushing leader and sixth overall. But he's 31 and still 4,951 yards behind Smith. The closest active player in his 20s is the Rams' Steven Jackson, who's 27 and still 10,407 yards behind Smith. Peterson is 12,573 yards shy of Smith.

"I really don't know if my record will stand forever, and I really don't care, to be honest with you," Smith said. "Records are made to be broken. But I will say once you get to 30, it becomes very difficult as a running back. Throughout your career, you need excellent health, great balance offensively and a great supporting cast. That's a lot. Any one of those things can either go your way or against you."

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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