Now that Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has entered into a plea agreement in Texas, avoiding jail time while resolving his child abuse case quickly, Peterson’s situation is no longer a legal matter but an NFL matter.
The Vikings continue to have internal discussions about whether Peterson, the leading rusher in franchise history who was expected to again be the centerpiece of their offense this season, should be allowed to play this season as they await word from the NFL about his status.
Only NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell can reinstate Peterson from the commissioner’s exempt list. Goodell, at the team’s request, gave the Vikings the special exemption in September after Peterson was charged with one count of child injury and the Vikings succumbed to pressure from sponsors and a sector of the fan base that wanted them to sit Peterson down.
But on Wednesday, Goodell was in New York, where he testified in the two-day appeals hearing for former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, which began Wednesday.
As he did with Rice after the running back was charged with hitting his then-fiancée in a New Jersey casino, Goodell typically requests players in high-profile disciplinary cases meet with him in person before doling out punishment. It is unclear if such a meeting has been scheduled with Peterson.
The Vikings, who resume practice Monday after this week’s bye, are hopeful that the league will act quickly on the Peterson matter. But in a statement, an NFL spokesman reiterated Wednesday that the league has set no timetable for a resolution as it reviews Peterson’s court records.
The NFLPA is also monitoring the situation as they wait for the NFL to make a decision.
Suspension, fine is possible
One likely scenario for Goodell would be to suspend Peterson retroactively for the eight games he has missed and then fine the running back an amount equal to the salary he earned during that time, said Michael McCann, the founding director of the New Hampshire-based Sports and Entertainment Law Institute.
While the move would cost Peterson millions in lost salary, McCann said, it would get the running back on the field quickly and allow Goodell to wash his hands of the matter while also appearing to take a tough stance.
“That’s a long suspension for a misdemeanor,” McCann said, adding that Peterson could balk at the deal. But with the other player discipline problems Goodell is facing, McCann added, the NFL commissioner would avoid having to “fight another player on a penalty.”
McCann said such an agreement could happen quickly, and even allow Peterson to play in the Vikings’ next game.
“There’s a good chance of that happening,” he said.
Peterson, one of the NFL’s most popular players, pleaded no contest Tuesday to a misdemeanor count of recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son, and was fined $4,000 in addition to court costs. He also agreed to serve two years of probation, and must perform 80 hours of community service.
Upon leaving the Conroe, Texas, courthouse Tuesday afternoon, Peterson told reporters, “I love my son more than any of you can imagine.”
Son’s mother backs Peterson
The unidentified mother of Peterson’s son said Wednesday that she agrees with the terms of the plea agreement that Peterson entered into in Texas over the whipping of their child, and she is hopeful that the incident will not further damage Peterson’s playing career.
In a statement released by her attorney in Minnesota, the lawyer said that “the entire matter has been very difficult for all involved parties” and that the mother “has valued her friendship with Mr. Peterson over the last seven years.”
The mother added that she and Peterson “have shared a parental relationship for four years with a fun, beautiful little boy,” and that she “knows that Mr. Peterson loves their son very much and has confidence that he will remain an involved parent.”
The attorney, Kelly Dohm of Waconia, said her client “has no interest in Mr. Peterson’s career being harmed” and wishes that the NFL “will not impose any additional punishment on him.”
Peterson has not played since his indictment in September over the incident, in which the 29-year-old was accused of whipping his son with a switch, a small tree branch stripped of its leaves. He is being paid while on the exempt list, earning about $6 million since the start of the season.
Vikings face dilemma
While the Vikings rank sixth in the NFL in yards per carry with rookie running back Jerick McKinnon leading all first-year players in rushing yards, the potential return of Peterson would be a boost for coach Mike Zimmer’s Vikings, who are 4-5 and still in the playoff picture in the NFC after winning two consecutive games before the bye week.
But there is no clear idea, even within Winter Park, about how Goodell will proceed.
During his tenure, Goodell has had to discipline players for crimes relating to the abuse of other men, domestic partners and animals. But Peterson’s child abuse charge is new territory.
According to Richard Roth of the Roth Law Firm in New York, the NFL still could choose to punish Peterson even though he has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor and already sat out eight games while his legal process played out. Roth, who has represented NFL players in matters of litigation and league discipline, said Goodell could opt to suspend Peterson additional games or impose a substantial fine.
“The NFL has had occasion to actually punish football players for having misdemeanors,” Roth said. “The problem is multiple. For one, this is a very hot issue. You’ve got the Ray Rice thing and everything coming down on the NFL, so they’ve got to figure out what the heck to do about that. And number two, this isn’t just a misdemeanor. He hit his kid pretty hard. So it’s not just like walking into a store and stealing a bottle of mouthwash. It’s not an easy situation that Goodell is in.”
If Goodell does choose to reinstate Peterson without announcing a suspension, the Vikings then would have to allow Peterson to return to the team or release him.
Teammates such as tight end Kyle Rudolph and outside linebacker Chad Greenway said Tuesday that Peterson would be welcomed back in the locker room. But would ownership and the front office welcome Peterson back? That has yet to be determined.
Staff writer Mike Kaszuba contributed to this story.