For some, the offseason is the most wonderful time of the year. With speculation running rampant, fans of teams who are not performing in this weekend’s Super Bowl are already scanning the free agency list and looking deep into the Draft Class to compile their wish list for off season acquisitions. This fun is precisely why the NFL is the juggernaut that it has become.
But for fans of the Minnesota Vikings, this approach, this fun has been tempered by something that has hung over the heads of the organization for the past six or seven months. And as much as it is on the minds of the fans, it’s even more of a concern for those cutting the checks inside the offices at Winter Park.
As it stands now, running back Adrian Peterson is a member of the team and his $15 million contract is going to count against the books for next season. But his future with the team is still very much up in the air. Does he want to be here anymore? Do the Vikings want him to be here anymore? It’s a $13 million question that could decide the direction of the team not only for the next season but deep into the future.
For the Vikings, these are the two questions at the crux of the situation that could dictate their entire approach to the free agent market and the 2015 NFL Draft.
If Peterson goes, which would likely require an amended date to come out of his February 6th court hearing, the Vikings will have loads of money to take into the free agency pool. As outlined in a previous post (Cowboys Unlikely to Retain Bryant and Murray, Why Is This Good For The Vikings), with Peterson off the books, the Vikings will clear an extra $13 million of cap space. Make a few other cuts and restructures (Johnson/Felton/Ponder, Greenway/Jennings) and the Vikings will be sitting with somewhere in the ballpark of $30-$33 million to play with during free agency. This sort of money would afford the Vikings some opportunities to rebuild with talented veterans that they have not had in a long time.
Building around the young core of Teddy Bridgewater on offense and Anthony Barr on defense, Spielman could target big name free agents at the offensive guard, wide receiver and linebacker spots to put this team back in contention very quickly.
But what if I told you that the other option, retaining Peterson, could have a better long-term outlook? What if I said that keeping Adrian and eating the $15 million he is owed would make the team better next season? Have I caught your attention?
At the center of this other path, it the retention of Adrian Peterson. Maybe the two sides have overcome the hurt feelings that surfaced during the past 8 months. Maybe Adrian wants to be here or maybe Adrian wants to keep his $15 million paycheck?
So Adrian stays, where does the team go from there?
With Peterson still counting against the books, the Vikings would still have somewhere in the ballpark of $17-$20 million to play with during free agency, barring some unforeseen bigtime cut. That still gives you a decent chunk of change to maybe target one top-level free agent and a few b-level guys. But the approach is completely different now, maybe diminishing the importance of free agency.
With Adrian in the backfield, your team gets better. We’ve seen it before, namely in 2012 when Christian Ponder was at the helm and Adrian went wild on the ground.
If Peterson is still effective, upgrading your left guard drops from your first priority maybe to your third or fourth. We’ve seen it before, Adrian Peterson has the ability to make a pedestrian offensive line look dominant. I mean seriously, with Adrian behind them, we once thought that Bryant McKinnie and Charlie Johnson were good linemen! It would allow the team to try their hand at a rookie LG through the draft rather than targeting Mike Iupati and forking over some serious cash in the process.
Adding the variable of Adrian to the backfield would take some of the pressure off of Bridgewater too. Having a serious ground threat to tag team with Teddy’s aerial assault ensures that the opposing defense will play more of a straight up style rather than leaning one way or the other.
It opens up the passing game for the wide receivers as well. You’ll see more one-on-ones on the outside and, seemingly, the passing game should jump up as well maybe deferring the need for another big time wide receiver one more year.
In essence, plopping Adrian Peterson back out on the field is the same as acquiring the top offensive weapon through free agency for this coaching staff. They weren’t afforded the opportunity to experience the benefit it is to have that weapon on the field last season.
In the long run, this scenario might fall in line more so with what the team is wanting to do with its new direction and new coaching staff.
We’ve seen it pretty clearly the past few seasons that Rick Spielman’s path to success comes through the draft. Identifying and retaining good, young talent is a solid way to find long term success. Just take a look across the border to Green Bay or jolt out west to Seattle and you’ll see this plan playing out only a few steps ahead in the process from where we are today.
Having Peterson act as your main offensive improvement will allow the Vikings to focus most of their free agent spending money on the defensive side of the ball, much to Mike Zimmer’s pleasure. Highlight some top level linebackers and cornerbacks and use the draft to rebuild some of the offensive holes, maybe a wide receiver or another corner at #11.
I think the common perception among fans is to turn away from Adrian Peterson as soon as possible. It is believed that the Vikings have mortgaged their future with this Peterson contract. A highly paid running back in a passing league just doesn’t seem to make sense anymore. But when you look at the two scenarios outlined above, the latter seems to be more Green-Bay-Packers-Esque while the former is very much Washington-Redskins-Esque. Looking at the recent histories of those two teams, you tell me which path might be the best to explore?