After the Vikings decided to end Peterson’s 10-year run in purple by signing Latavius Murray in March 2017, the 2012 NFL MVP signed with the Saints on April 25, finalizing a two-year deal to play with Drew Brees and get a fresh start after an injury-filled final season in Minnesota. That stint lasted just four games, in which Peterson gained only 81 yards on 27 carries, and he was traded to Arizona on Oct. 10.
Peterson gained 448 yards on 129 carries there, posting a pair of 100-yard games in his first three weeks with the team, but was placed on injured reserve in December. With David Johnson coming back from the wrist injury that kept him out in 2017, the Cardinals decided not to keep Peterson — even with Kirby Wilson (Peterson’s running backs coach for his final rushing title in Minnesota in 2015) becoming the position coach in Arizona.
Peterson said in a radio interview on June 1 he hasn’t had any concrete offers, and a team that was seriously interested in the 33-year-old running back likely would have signed him by now.
Recently, Peterson’s been more active than usual on social media, in part to promote his All Day Elite football camp in Houston earlier this month, but also to retweet fans telling him they hope he gets a chance to play in 2018. He’s long said he can play until age 37, and it stands to reason Peterson will keep himself in shape for the inevitable injury that puts a team in need of a running back this summer or fall.
Even though Frank Gore has surged past Peterson on the all-time rushing list, climbing all the way up to the No. 5 spot that seemed in reach for Peterson as recently as two years ago, there are still running backs for Peterson to catch with just a few more productive games. He’s only three yards behind Marshall Faulk for 11th place on the all-time rushing list, and needs just 36 to catch Jim Brown for 10th place. Tony Dorsett sits in ninth place, with only 463 yards more than Peterson, so even a productive year in a part-time role could get him there.
Still, it’s striking to watch Peterson go through ever-longer searches for a dance partner. It was two years ago today that I spent a day with him at his new O Athletik gym in Houston, talking to him about his place in history, his efforts to improve after his costly fumble in the 2016 NFC wild-card playoffs and his central role on a Vikings team that appeared set for a bid to play Super Bowl LI in Houston.
That day, Peterson said it would eventually be the mental and emotional grind of the NFL schedule, not physical deterioration, that would eventually cause him to walk away. He appears to remain in pristine physical shape, but as he said that day, “I love spending time with my kids, and they’re getting older now.”His place in NFL history is secure; he’s tied for second all-time with three rushing titles, the single-game rushing record of 296 yards he set in 2007 still stands and he remains the last running back to win MVP honors after rushing for 2,097 in 2012. As our Mark Craig pointed out on the Access Vikings podcast earlier this month, 15 of the top 16 rushers in NFL history are in the Hall of Fame, so there doesn’t figure to be much debate about Peterson’s worthiness for Canton.
It will be interesting to see, then, when he decides to end what figures to be an annual job search and walk away. Peterson’s exit from Minnesota was mostly amicable, though he said in a radio interview this week he clashed with the team over his decision to sit out in Week 16 of the 2016 season, with the Vikings’ playoff hopes all but dead, after coming back from a torn meniscus. Assuming he has a copacetic relationship with the team when he retires, he’ll be a shoo-in for the Vikings Ring of Honor, and the team could retire his No. 28 (though, from this perspective, it should hang up Randy Moss’ No. 84 before then). But since his last rushing title, Peterson has gained just 603 yards in 13 games for three teams, while ending both of those seasons on injured reserve.
As the Vikings head toward their first season with Kirk Cousins as their centerpiece, and their second without Peterson, it’s strange to see the running back, indomitable not so long ago, still waiting for a job in June.