For a decade in purple, Adrian Peterson gave Vikings fans plenty of thrills and chills, and later in his career conflicting feelings, as he broke loose from would-be tacklers and pulled away from defenders in the open field.
His 2012 season, when he returned from a major knee injury suffered that previous December to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award and nearly ran down Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record, solidified the team’s 2007 top draft pick as a generational talent and likely Hall of Famer.
But the soon-to-be 32-year-old likely will have to continue his chase of the career rushing record elsewhere. The Vikings on Tuesday announced that they will not exercise their team option on Peterson’s contract for the upcoming 2017 season.
Peterson will become a free agent for the first time in his 10-year career, and the seven-time Pro Bowler likely has played his last down for Minnesota. However, there is a chance the Vikings still could bring back Peterson, who had been slated to earn $18 million in the final year of his contract, at a more realistic salary after he gauges his value on the open market.
“Adrian is an important part of the Minnesota Vikings organization,” General Manager Rick Spielman said Tuesday in a statement. “We will continue to have conversations with his representatives and leave our future options open while determining what is best for both parties moving forward.”
Peterson also said “the door is still open” for a possible return.
“It’s been a great 10 years with the Minnesota Vikings. They know what I bring to the organization as a player, with my work ethic and dedication,” he told ESPN. “I spoke with Rick Spielman this past weekend. The door is still open to find some common ground. I understand addressing the offensive line is one of their main priorities this offseason. In the meantime, I will explore my other options and see what path God leads me on.
“My main goal remains the same: to win a Super Bowl championship with a great team, which I also believe we have in Minnesota.”
The Vikings made the announcement as a large contingent of their front-office executives, coaches and scouts descended on Indianapolis for the league’s annual scouting combine. The Vikings are expected to resume talks with Peterson’s agent there while they also inspect possible replacements.
Strong class of backs in draft
Last week, Spielman said this year’s running back class, led by LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Florida State’s Dalvin Cook, is “the strongest I’ve ever seen.” The Vikings hope to grab in April’s NFL draft a do-it-all running back, one with fresher legs and a bargain-bin rookie contract, to team up with Jerick McKinnon and, if he re-signs at a significantly reduced salary, Peterson.
Even though the departure of Peterson will put them $38 million below the salary-cap ceiling per OverTheCap.com, they will not shell out big bucks for a veteran back in free agency even though the big names available include Jamaal Charles, Eddie Lacy, LeGarrette Blount and Latavius Murray.
Peterson will join them as a free agent March 9. Last month, on ESPN, he listed the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans as teams with whom he would be interested in signing if the Vikings let him loose. He also has long been enamored by joining the Dallas Cowboys.
If Peterson finds elsewhere the large workload and sizable salary he still feels he deserves, it will be the end of quite a run here for the No. 7 overall pick in 2007.
As a rookie, the former Oklahoma Sooners star set the NFL record for rushing yards in a game with 296 in a victory over the San Diego Chargers, a record that still stands. Despite splitting carries with Chester Taylor that year, Peterson rushed for 1,341 yards and a dozen touchdowns.
Peterson rushed for at least 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in each of his first four seasons. He was on pace to do it again in 2011 before he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee at Washington’s FedEx Field on Christmas Eve, setting the stage for his stunning comeback and MVP campaign.
Peterson was amazingly ready to roll by the 2012 season opener and carried the Vikings to the playoffs with 2,097 rushing yards, only eight yards shy of the NFL’s single-season record set by Dickerson in 1984.
In 2014, he played only one game before he was indicted on child abuse charges in his home state of Texas. Peterson spent the rest of the season on either the NFL’s suspended list or commissioner’s exempt list.
He avoided jail time by pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault and was reinstated for the 2015 season. But some Vikings fans vowed they no longer would support the running back.
After an uncomfortable stalemate with the organization, Peterson finally returned to the team in late May and soon signed a new contract through 2017 that ensured he remained the NFL’s highest-paid running back.
Injured and ineffective in 2016
Peterson produced another All-Pro campaign in 2015 but played in only three games last season because of knee and groin injuries. When healthy, he struggled behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines and proved to be a poor fit for the team’s shotgun spread offense, averaging a career-low 1.9 yards per carry.
In his final game with the Vikings last December, when he returned after an 11-game absence, Peterson rushed for only 22 yards on six carries and lost a first-half fumble during a blowout home loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Barring a return to the team at some point, Peterson has finished his Vikings career with 11,747 rushing yards and 97 touchdowns on the ground.
He has long stated that one of his primary career goals is to top Emmitt Smith’s career rushing record. Peterson, who is 16th on the NFL’s all-time list, still has a long way to run. He trails Smith by 6,608 yards.
Peterson thinks he can play a few more years in the NFL. And he has defied the odds before during his career. But after the Vikings said they won’t pick up his 2017 option, he’ll likely have to defy them elsewhere.