The Vikings now know that Adrian Peterson will not suit up again for them this season.
All that is left, besides a potential legal battle between the NFL and the NFL Players Association, is the question of whether the star running back ever will play for the franchise again.
The NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday morning suspended the career rushing leader in Vikings history for not only the remainder of the 2014 season but through April 15, 2015. Peterson appealed, but it would be heard by Goodell himself, making it unlikely there would be any altering of the ruling.
Later Tuesday, arbitrator Shaym Das, who on Monday heard Peterson’s grievance with the league, ruled Peterson would remain on the commissioner’s exempt list, eliminating the possibility that he could play while his appeal of the suspension was considered. The NFL suspended Peterson without pay; he will be paid while on the exempt list, however.
Peterson, who hasn’t suited up for the Vikings since the season opener, has been on the list since being charged with a felony count of assault in September after disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch. The court case was settled two weeks ago when Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault.
Goodell said Peterson violated the league’s personal conduct policy “in an incident of abusive discipline” in May at his home in Texas when he whipped his son with a tree branch. He went on to call what Peterson did to his son “emotional and psychological trauma” that came in the form of “criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father.”
Now Peterson is required to meet with Dr. April Kuchuk, an instructor in the New York University Department of Psychiatry and a forensic consultant to the New York City District Attorney’s offices and New York courts, by Dec. 1 to design a mandatory program of counseling, therapy and possible community service.
“We are prepared to put in place a program that can help you to succeed, but no program can succeed without your genuine and continuing engagement,” Goodell said in a letter to Peterson. “You must commit yourself to your counseling and rehabilitative effort, properly care for your children, and have no further violations of law or league policy.”
Peterson will be eligible for reinstatement on April 15, the league said. Failure to cooperate with the league’s requirements will result in a lengthier suspension without pay, according to Goodell.
Within minutes of the suspension, the NFLPA — already feuding with the commissioner over his indefinite suspension of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice — said it would appeal the suspension on Peterson’s behalf, saying in a statement that it was “another example of the credibility gap that exists between the agreements they make and the actions they take.”
The NFLPA also demanded that a neutral arbitrator oversee the appeal. But according to the collective bargaining agreement between the league and the players, Goodell is the one who will hear the appeal. And with Peterson remaining on the exempt list, keeping him away from Winter Park on paid leave, the NFL does not need to rush the process.
While aware that a lengthy suspension was a possibility, the Vikings appeared to be ready to welcome Peterson back in the event he was reinstated. But as they waited for word from Goodell and the NFL, they publicly remained silent on how they planned to proceed, saying the decision was out of their control.
“When those decisions are made, then we can make decisions,” coach Mike Zimmer said Nov. 10, the last time he was asked about Peterson. “Until then, really, our hands are tied. There’s really nothing we can do about it, other than what I’ve said all along. We love the kid, he’s done everything I’ve asked him to do and we support him and we want him to get through this for him, then we will worry about all of the other things we have to deal with at that point in time.”
After the NFL announced the suspension Tuesday, the Vikings released a statement that simply said, “The NFL has informed the Vikings of today’s decision regarding Adrian Peterson. We respect the league’s decision and will have no further comment at this time.”
Since Peterson was placed on the commissioner’s exempt list in Week 3, Zimmer repeatedly had said that he would only worry about players on the roster and the team operated as if Peterson would not return this season.
Matt Asiata, a former undrafted free agent, replaced Peterson in the starting lineup in Week 2. But four weeks later, the Vikings turned to rookie Jerick McKinnon, a third-round pick in May’s NFL draft who was initially expected to play a complementary role to Peterson.
McKinnon ranks 18th in the NFL — and second among rookies — with 484 rushing yards. The Vikings rank sixth in the league in yards per carry (4.6) through 11 weeks.
With Peterson out for at least the rest of the season, the Vikings must soon decide if they will bring him back in 2015. The league’s highest-paid running back, he is scheduled to make a base salary of $12.8 million and would carry a cap hit of $15.4 million.
Peterson’s contract runs through 2017, but all $36 million guaranteed in the seven-year, $96 million deal has been paid, so the Vikings could cut Peterson following this season with minimal salary cap ramifications if they believed it was time to move on.
Peterson has rushed for 10,190 yards and 86 touchdowns in 104 games with the Vikings. He has said it is his goal to break Emmitt Smith’s NFL career rushing record of 18,355 yards. But this lost season, and the fact he will turn 30 before next season, puts that pursuit in serious peril.
And while the Vikings — who were overwhelmed with pressure from sponsors and fans after Peterson was charged — have declined to say whether they plan to keep Peterson beyond this season, there is a chance he could be chasing Smith’s record in a different uniform in 2015.