In Adrian Peterson’s fantasy, he runs for 300 yards in a game, 2,500 for a season, one better than Emmitt Smith’s 18,355 for a career and makes $18 million in 2017.
Of those four improbabilities, the last one is least likely to happen. The Vikings haven’t had to officially address the decision yet or notify the Peterson camp of their intentions, but, no, they will not be exercising the $18 million club option by paying Peterson’s $6 million roster bonus on March 11.
“It’s not a very good market for him,” said NFL Network analyst Charley Casserly, the former Redskins general manager. “I think he’ll have to take a significant pay cut. That much is obvious. If he can pass a physical, somebody will offer him a job. But it will be for a heck of a lot less money than he’s used to.”
Bill Polian, a Hall of Fame general manager and ESPN analyst, said if he still were a GM, his interest in Peterson would “depend entirely on the price Adrian’s agent was asking for.”
“I would imagine there will be a number of teams that are attractive to him,” Polian said. “But I don’t know how many will be attracted to him. But it only takes one team to make a market.”
The Vikings do have interest in retaining Peterson, but only under their financial terms. Those figures won’t be determined until the team finishes evaluating its roster and what it feels it can get out of free agency and the draft.
The Vikings won’t pursue another running back in free agency and probably won’t re-sign Matt Asiata. With Jerick McKinnon’s limitations as a third-down-type of back, the Vikings will have interest in picking from a strong draft class whether Peterson chooses to accept their potential pay cut offer or not.
Besides turning 32 in March and missing 13 games because of surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, Peterson’s fit, or lack thereof, in the Vikings offense also will be a factor in determining his financial worth to the Vikings.
Shurmur will return
Coach Mike Zimmer already has announced Sam Bradford as his starting quarterback. Zimmer will also announce soon that Pat Shurmur will be his offensive coordinator after carrying the interim tag well during the final nine weeks of the season. So Peterson no longer would be the focal point of the offense, and would need some work and a stronger offensive line to fit in better than he did when he and Shurmur’s offense ground to a halt together in the 34-6 loss to the Colts.
Jason Fitzgerald runs the OverTheCap.com, a website that deals with the all things financial in the NFL. He estimates Peterson’s maximum market value at $5 million a year.
“That would be actually pretty good when you look at the hierarchy of running backs today,” Fitzgerald said. “The lowest I think he’d play for is $4 million. I think he would at least have to match what Matt Forte and Frank Gore are getting a year. Even coming off the injury and everything else, I can’t imagine a scenario in which Peterson would accept less than those two players.”
Gore was 31 in 2015 when the Colts signed him to a three-year, $12 million deal with $6.5 million guaranteed. Forte was 30 last year when the Jets signed him to a three-year, $12 million deal with $9 million guaranteed.
Assuming Peterson accepts his new and unfamiliar financial reality heading into his 11th season, Fitzgerald said he believes Peterson also will accept a similar two- or three-year deal with $9 million to $10 million guaranteed.
“That’s not bad, but when guys come from Adrian’s [financial] level, they probably see that as insulting,” Fitzgerald said. “I think Chris Johnson went through that a few years back.
“DeMarco Murray was healthy, led the league in rushing in Dallas and was [26 in 2014] when he had to look around in free agency. He ended up getting $8 million a year from Philadelphia. So $18 million is an insane number.”
Peterson’s current contract has a league-high average of $14 million a year. The next highest belongs to Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy at $8 million a year. The next three in line — Jonathan Stewart at $7.3 million, Doug Martin at $7.1 million and Jamaal Charles at $6.9 million — are likely to be released, Fitzgerald said.
“The new market-setter is likely to be Le’Veon Bell,” Fitzgerald said of the Steelers’ 24-year-old back. “He’s a free agent I can see getting $9 million, maybe $10 million a year.”
Teams that fit Peterson
Casserly went through the NFL, team by team, and came up with only Indianapolis, Detroit, Seattle and Tampa Bay as teams he thinks would have an interest in signing Peterson. Gore is turning 34 in Indy. Detroit and Seattle are playoff teams desperately lacking a running game. And Tampa Bay probably will be looking in a different direction now that Doug Martin’s money guarantees have been nullified after his four-game suspension for drug use.
“Detroit is a call you’d have to make,” Casserly said.
Fitzgerald agreed that Seattle would be a good fit but wondered if the Seahawks would be hesitant after getting burned in the big deal they gave Marshawn Lynch. He, like others, also looks at New England as wild card considering Belichick’s knack for getting star veterans to play for pennies on the dollar in return for a better shot at winning a Super Bowl.
LeGarrette Blount just put together an 1,100-yard season in New England. But he’s 30 and a free agent after signing a one-year, $1 million deal last offseason.
“If the price is right, you never know with Belichick,” Fitzgerald said. “But I’m not sure that’s what Adrian would want because there’s a way to get rich and there’s the ‘Patriot Way.’ ”
Former Steelers running back and current ESPN analyst Merril Hoge said he thinks Seattle and Detroit are the two best fits for Peterson. He also said Detroit would be more favorable for Peterson because the Lions have a better offensive line than the Seahawks.
“I watched all  carries [for 72 yards] Peterson had this year,” Hoge said. “Minnesota had issues on the offensive line and with the schematic change at coordinator. But the team that gets Adrian, I saw absolutely zero decline. He didn’t play much, but from what I saw, there is no evidence to tell me he’s done.”
‘Weird for everybody’
Peterson is heading into his 11th season, yet he never has experienced the financial reality of the modern NFL veteran running back. In 2011, he signed a seven-year, $96 million deal. In 2014, he missed 15 games while dealing with child abuse charges, yet the Vikings paid him his $11.75 million salary.
In 2015, he and Ben Dogra, his agent at the time, made desperate attempts to force the Vikings to release him before the draft. A Texas native still living in Houston, Peterson expressed a desire to play for the hometown Texans or his boyhood dream team in the Cowboys.
The Vikings stood firm and turned Peterson’s frown upside down with a restructuring that put $20 million in guarantees into the final three years of his deal. Peterson went out and led the league in rushing in 2015.
A year later, Peterson could hit the open market, but there are no landing spots in Texas. Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott, the rookie All-Pro running back who led the league in rushing; Houston gave 25-year-old Lamar Miller a four-year, $26 million deal with $14 million guaranteed.
There is a chance Peterson returns to Minnesota, taking a more reasonable salary while maybe accepting it as a trade-off for the $22.8 million the Vikings paid him for the four games he played in 2014 and 2016. But the more likely scenario is Peterson, the greatest running back in franchise history, chooses pride and pulls on a different jersey in 2017.
“I think that would be weird for everybody,” McKinnon said.
On Monday, Peterson admitted he has thought about what it would feel like to move on.
“I was like, yeah, it would be weird,” Peterson said. “But at the end of the day, [Brett] Favre came [to the Vikings] and had one of the best seasons of his career. Sometimes, you’re able to work things about with business and sometimes you’re not. That’s life. It is what it is.”