The owners want him back. The general manager wants him back. The coach definitely wants him back.
Even the newly promoted chief operating officer, who once reportedly wanted the Vikings to part ways with Adrian Peterson, offered a glowing account of the exiled running back this week and noted strongly that he wants Peterson back, too.
In a show of solidarity, top officials within the Vikings organization have come out recently and publicly championed Peterson’s return once his legal case with the NFL is resolved.
First it was Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman. Then Mark Wilf. Then Kevin Warren, the new COO.
Their unified voice is not coincidence. It feels calculated. The Vikings want to show Peterson, fans and perhaps sponsors that the organization is on the same page now that Peterson’s criminal case is behind him and his status must be addressed.
Their comments no longer leave the organization vulnerable to speculation. By voicing their support, they eliminate rumors of a house divided with uncertainty over who supports Peterson and who doesn’t.
A cynic might question whether their company line represents a strategic ploy designed to enhance Peterson’s trade value if the team does intend to move on. But if accepted at face value, the Vikings sound convincing in expressing their desire to welcome Peterson back to Winter Park.
But at what price? That part remains unsaid.
This is where the Peterson story has changed course. His future with the team hinges on finances and not a moral debate about his criminal case.
Peterson made a mistake in whipping his son. He has been punished by the courts. He missed almost an entire season in the prime of his career. He lost six game checks worth $4.1 million.
Peterson has apologized for his actions and has mentioned speaking to a psychologist about improving his parenting skills.
Some fans might still hold strong opinions about Peterson, but the fact is he’s been punished. It’s time to move on.
But, again, at what cost? Peterson is scheduled to earn $12.75 million this season with a salary cap hit of $15.4 million.
That’s a whopper for a running back who turns 30 in March. Many people, myself included, have applied conventional NFL logic in speculating that the Vikings will ask Peterson to restructure his contract or risk being released.
His salary combined with his age, position and legal case screams pay cut. His cap number ranks first among NFL running backs by a wide margin.
But could the Vikings welcome him back with no adjustment to his contract? The idea seems unwise, and I’ve argued against it previously. Now, I question whether insisting on a massive pay cut is still the right move.
The Vikings can afford Peterson’s 2015 salary largely because they have a starting quarterback who is playing on his rookie contract and doesn’t consume a large chunk of the team’s cap number. That’s an ideal situation for teams constructing their roster. See: Seattle Seahawks.
The Vikings did not approach former defensive end Jared Allen about restructuring a contract that paid him $14.3 million with a cap hit of $17 million in his final season.
Consider, too, that wide receiver Greg Jennings carries an $11 million cap number next season. Which one seems more egregious, his or Peterson’s? Jennings should be in line for a contract restructuring this offseason.
The organization is not allowed to have contact with Peterson until his legal case gets resolved, but my gut feeling remains that Peterson would balk at a restructuring request. He believes he’s still the best running back in football, and he told ESPN.com in December that he doesn’t see why he would be asked to take a pay cut.
A showdown might be looming.
Maybe the Vikings could approach Peterson with a slightly restructured contract loaded with incentives, but even that plan might meet firm resistance. Then what?
Teams can always find serviceable running backs, but Peterson remains a special talent who could further help Teddy Bridgewater and his development. And if Peterson displayed extra motivation upon returning from ACL surgery a few years ago, imagine the anger and determination he’ll carry onto the field this season.
Is that potential payoff worth overpaying him for one final season? It’s certainly worth a discussion.
Peterson’s former youth football coach and close friend Steve Eudey spent time with Peterson recently. Eudey said Peterson indicated to him that he wants to stay in Minnesota because he has “unfinished business” with the Vikings.
At least publicly, the Vikings want that to happen, too. Time has allowed emotions to settle and opened the door to forgiveness.
Peterson’s future, his unfinished business, now becomes strictly a business decision. But until the Vikings reveal how much they are willing to spend, Peterson’s status remains complicated.