For a brief moment Thursday, it looked as if Adrian Peterson might be loose, free from the NFL’s grasp and perhaps a step closer to closure with the Vikings as well.
The NFL Players Association claimed a victory in the morning when U.S. District Court Judge David Doty sided with Peterson and the NFLPA, saying the league’s arbitrator, Harold Henderson, issued a ruling “inconsistent” with the NFL and NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement by upholding the running back’s suspension in December.
But later that afternoon, the NFL said it would appeal to the Eighth District Court of Appeals and placed Peterson back on the Commissioner’s exempt list.
With Peterson bottled up again, the Vikings, who maintain publicly that they will welcome him back when they officially can, must keep playing the waiting game.
“Adrian Peterson is an important member of the Minnesota Vikings, and our focus remains on welcoming him back when he is able to rejoin our organization,” the team said in a statement. “Today’s ruling leaves Adrian’s status under the control of the NFL, the NFLPA and the legal system, and we will have no further comment at this time.”
Under his vacated suspension, Peterson would have been eligible for reinstatement April 15. He is no longer suspended but still in limbo, and it could take months for the NFL’s appeal of Doty’s decision to be heard.
With the start of the league year — notably free agency and the opening of the NFL’s trade window — less than two weeks away March 10, it seems inevitable that the Vikings will have to start doing their business with Peterson’s situation unsettled.
Peterson’s contract remains the largest on the team, and he will still count against the salary cap while on the exempt list. Peterson is scheduled to make a salary of $12.75 million this season with a salary cap figure of $15.4 million.
The Vikings are projected to have about $18 million in salary cap space with Peterson on the books and can create more by restructuring contracts or releasing veterans.
Even so, coach Mike Zimmer said last week at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis that he doesn’t expect the Vikings to be major players in free agency. He added that Peterson’s uncertain situation wouldn’t affect their offseason plans at running back because they didn’t have much interest in spending much for another player at the position.
The draft is another story, though. General Manager Rick Spielman likes the depth of this year’s running back class and believes that some of the best ball-carriers are worthy of first-round picks. No running back has gone in the first round since 2012.
“I don’t know what other teams are thinking or what their philosophies are, but I know there’s some running backs in this draft, at least in my opinion, that have that type of talent,” Spielman said at the combine.
While the Vikings say they would prefer that Peterson is their starting running back in 2015, it appears they must patch up their relationship with the disgruntled former league MVP.
In an interview with ESPN last week, Peterson said he felt “uneasy” about returning to the Vikings. The Vikings are able to trade him or release him while he is on the Commissioner’s exempt list, but he has not formally requested a trade or demanded to be released.
Per league rules, Zimmer and Spielman were not permitted to speak with Peterson while he was suspended. But now that the NFL has placed him back on the exempt list, they are allowed to contact him and potentially try to smooth things over.
Peterson has talked about a perceived lack of loyalty from the organization, but the elephant in the room is his contract. The Vikings are expected to approach him about taking a pay cut. Meanwhile, Peterson, who turns 30 on March 21, would probably be interested in securing guaranteed money in future years now that his has been paid out.
Either way, once he is reinstated, Peterson’s future will be in the team’s hands. But before the Vikings will choose to tackle that, he must first find a way to wiggle out of the NFL’s grasp.