That signing cornerback Patrick Peterson could be a possibility — given the Vikings' tenuous salary cap position — hadn't registered as a serious thought for Rick Spielman until last Wednesday afternoon, when agent Joel Segal called the Vikings' general manager while Spielman was on the way back from Georgia's pro day.
"We [had] talked about him during our free agency meetings, but didn't think we would have a legitimate shot," Spielman said Monday. "And then next thing I know, I talk to [VP of football operations] Rob Brzezinski — 'Can we figure this out to make it work from a cap planning standpoint? But most importantly, we need to get this player on our football team.' Joel and Rob were able to make that work; I think this thing came together in about two hours."
Spielman sent Peterson, an eight-time Pro Bowler and three-time first-team All-Pro, the Vikings' free agent recruiting video and called him from the Atlanta airport. Mike Zimmer, who'd talked with Peterson before the 2011 draft, also gave the 30-year-old corner a call last Wednesday.
"Deion Sanders, Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Johnathan Joseph, the list goes on — he's able to help further those guys' careers," Peterson said of Zimmer, whose Bengals took receiver A.J. Green a spot ahead of Peterson in the first round in 2011. "And if you look at all those guys' careers, those guys played 13-14-plus years, so Coach Zim definitely has something he's giving those guys to not only help prepare their career into new heights but also help their longevity as well."
The one-year, $8 million deal Peterson officially signed Monday kicked off an unlikely marriage between a corner looking to rejuvenate his career after a decade in Arizona and a defense that stumbled from lofty heights during a hasty rebuild in 2020. Had things gone differently for both sides, Peterson might not have been available to the Vikings, and they might not have needed him.
Instead, the corner that hopes to play another six years and the regime that wants to stick around Minnesota for the foreseeable future will team up for a season that could hold the key to both sets of plans.
"I feel great. I'm in shape," Peterson said. "My mind feels young, my body feels young, and I just want to continue to grind. Whenever you lose that drive, that focus of that desire of not wanting to work out, of not wanting to go to work, that's when I've decided that will be the call-it point for me. At this moment right now, I feel unbelievably great. My shape is unbelievable, and I just want to continue playing at a high level."
Peterson said Monday he believes "the plan is me playing cornerback," rather than shifting to safety to play alongside Harrison Smith. He'd be asked to help mold second-year corners Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand, but staying at the position would also give him a chance to bounce back from a two-year stretch where his work as a cover corner slipped.
According to Pro Football Focus, Peterson gave up a passer rating of more than 100 on balls thrown his way in 2019 and 2020, as his eight-year streak of Pro Bowl selections ended. He was suspended for the first six games of the 2019 season for violating the league's performance-enhancing substance policy. He gave up five touchdowns last season (his most since 2014, according to PFF) as Arizona lost five of its last seven to miss the playoffs.
"I don't think the last two seasons definitely went as planned," he said. "Having the year before to serve that six-game suspension, last year having little ebbs and flows throughout the season. I can't really point at what caused that or whatever. I just know there's long seasons and things happen throughout the season to where you're not necessarily getting thrown off track or anything like that. You just have to find ways.
"With me playing 150-some games, I've been through worse times. I've been through some good times. I've been through the bad times. Just as long as I find a way to stick to the script and fall back on my fundamentals, I know I'll be OK. So now having a fresh start, new scenery, fresh air, I think it's going to be great for me."
The Vikings bet a sizable portion of their available salary cap space on a bounce-back year from Peterson, who made his own wager on Zimmer's history with corners late in their careers.
Should it all work out, the Vikings might derive a similar benefit from Peterson as they got from Newman, who steadied a young cornerback group, played multiple positions and helped develop players like Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander from 2015-17. He also spent a year as the Vikings' assistant defensive backs coach after his retirement in the 2018 training camp.
"I've been in the league for 11 years now," Peterson said. "I've seen guys come in and take practice like a joke on a Wednesday or a Thursday. The next thing you know, that comes up on Sunday because on Wednesday you didn't take it serious. It's just little things like that. Taking the walk through seriously because now, in today's game, you can't be out on the field as long as you were as far as the hitting. You have more walk throughs now so you have to take advantage of those types of things."
The Vikings are wagering that his experience can make up for what they were missing last year, and that they can provide him with what he might have lacked.
"Usually, when you bet on guys that have the pedigree that he has," Spielman said, "you're going to get some outstanding football going forward."