petersonkalilThe 2016 NFL regular season hasn’t even started yet, and already some of us are thinking about 2017.

Maybe that’s just the nature of the business. Maybe that’s not fair.

Regardless, this thought is looming as it pertains to the Vikings and their most visible franchise player: what will they do when Adrian Peterson is a 32-year-old running back with an $18 million cap hit next season?

As in: can they afford to keep him — and even so, do they really want to keep him at that price? Some of that could depend on what happens this season, of course. But for now, we’re dealing in hypotheticals — and trying to sort it out.

To do so, we asked Joel Corry of CBS Sports about Peterson and several other salary issues on this week’s Access Vikings podcast. Corry is a former player agent who is now a salary cap expert. His full thoughts are available here starting around the 23:00 minute mark (or if you prefer, here’s the iTunes and Google Play version, where you can subscribe to the podcast).

But here’s a snippet of Corry on Peterson and his contract:

“They can afford it for one reason: They don’t have a quarterback  at that cap number. You don’t have an Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton quarterback cap number. So as long as he’s producing and he’s still the best running back in football, you can keep him at that cap number. The problem is that market has become depressed ever since he did his deal and Chris Johnson (did his). He sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the running back market. But if he does what he did last year or better you can live with it mainly because you don’t have that big quarterback number siting out there.”

That’s a very good point, and one that underscores the Vikings’ window of opportunity while Teddy Bridgewater is still on his rookie deal. Because he was a first-round pick, the Vikings will have a fifth-year option on Bridgewater — meaning he can be under team control for this season and two years beyond. At some point in that stretch, though, the Vikings would probably look to make a long-term decision on Bridgewater — likely an extension assuming he continues to progress and lead the team to victories.

In that same time frame, as Corry also discussed, some of the Vikings’ other young players like Xavier Rhodes, Sharrif Floyd, Anthony Barr and eventually Eric Kendricks would be in line to get big bumps as well. For now, though, all those good young players are on pretty modest deals — making it possible to keep a guy like Peterson, who is still quite valuable as long as he keeps producing.

With Peterson, the decision next year would be more about whether the $18 million could be spent in a way that is more valuable to the Vikings. By 2018, the Vikings might have to start making many decisions more difficult than that one.

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