At age 32, Patrick Peterson enjoyed a resurgent 2022 season with the Vikings. He spoke openly about his desire to remain with the team for his 13th NFL season; it seemed possible heading into free agency that the eight-time Pro Bowl player would be back in Minnesota for 2023.
And on Monday, after he agreed to a two-year, $14 million deal with the Steelers, Peterson had nothing but kind things to say about negotiations with the Vikings that ultimately ended without a contract.
"It was all clean, good, adult business, how it's supposed to be," Peterson said on his "All Things Covered" podcast. "There wasn't curveballs. It was how it was supposed to be, and I can't do nothing but appreciate that."
Peterson's podcast made him the first departed Vikings player to speak at any length about the process by which the team is moving on from an unexpected 13-win season. To hear Peterson tell it, his discussions with the Vikings were the kinds of personable talks General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said he wanted to have with the decorated veteran players whose time in Minnesota might be ending. To watch how the Vikings operated in the past two weeks, it's clear that while sentiment might dignify goodbyes, it won't delay them.
On March 6, the Vikings released Eric Kendricks, saluting the former All-Pro linebacker and Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee's performance and service while saving $9.5 million on a 31-year-old who had struggled in pass coverage last year.
They praised Adam Thielen's unlikely story and unique place in Minnesota sports history on March 10, while absorbing $13.55 million of dead money on the 32-year-old wide receiver's contract rather than deferring the costs any longer.
Rather than keeping Peterson on the kind of deal he received from the Steelers — which basically amounted to a one-year contract with non-guaranteed money for 2024 — they came to the same kind of reasonable pact with Byron Murphy Jr., the 25-year-old former Cardinals corner who was once mentored by Peterson and might be more suited to new defensive coordinator Brian Flores' man coverage schemes than Peterson is at this point in his career.
Pragmatism governed the Vikings' discussions even with the veterans they kept. They recouped $6.7 million of salary cap space in a restructured deal with Harrison Smith, while betting the 34-year-old safety will be a better fit in Flores' scheme than he was when former coordinator Ed Donatell sanded most of the variety from the role he'd enjoyed under Mike Zimmer. They guaranteed inside linebacker Jordan Hicks' base salary for this year while reducing the 30-year-old's cap number by $1.5 million. And instead of finalizing a long-term extension with quarterback Kirk Cousins, they added two more void years to his deal to gain cap relief while retaining the flexibility Adofo-Mensah said they wanted at the QB position.
"It's always going to be solutions-oriented," Adofo-Mensah said on Feb. 28. "Can we find a way to work together within our time horizon? If not the case, we might not be together, but I hope three, four years down the line we'll be able to laugh and enjoy these moments we had together, appreciate them and just know that sometimes business comes and there's different solutions that need to happen."
The Vikings' approach in Adofo-Mensah's second offseason stands in contrast to the one they used during Rick Spielman's final years, when the Vikings kept off-ball linebackers like Anthony Barr and tight ends like Kyle Rudolph at premium cap numbers while trying to win with an aging roster. The previous regime, for its old-school virtues, seemed reluctant to part with players at times. If Adofo-Mensah and coach Kevin O'Connell's emphasis on culture and player empowerment invites a narrative that two are overly hospitable, the results show they've been unafraid to make tough decisions on coaches (like Donatell) or players quickly.
"It will be draining. It will be tough," Adofo-Mensah said at the combine. "That's why we get paid what we get paid, because I'm not always going to be the most liked person in the room. That's just kind of the job. I do like being liked, though, so please don't let that come off wrongly. These are hard decisions, great people, great humans. We're having those conversations ongoing right now and we'll see what we come up with."
The Vikings' biggest decision at the quarterback position is still coming, after they opted for void years on Cousins' deal over the long-term guarantees he wanted. The 34-year-old is now scheduled to be a free agent after the season. It's possible the Vikings and Cousins could reconnect for a new deal at that point, particularly if Cousins finds the team to be the best option after gauging interest from around the league.
Adofo-Mensah said at the combine he didn't want to force a quarterback into action as a rookie. If the Vikings wait until 2024 to draft a passer and don't bring Cousins back next season, they could opt for a veteran bridge starter while their next QB gets ready. They will have Cousins for 2023; if the durable starter's sixth season in Minnesota is his last, the Vikings will return, at least briefly, to a period of uncertainty at the position. At the moment, they appear willing to take the risk, instead of making deal that could have provided guaranteed money through 2025 as Derek Carr's contract with the Saints did.
Assessing risk was part of Adofo-Mensah's job on Wall Street; it's a central part of his job with the Vikings. But after a week that brought plenty of change to Minnesota, it's clear that while the GM wants to handle it thoughtfully, he isn't trying to avoid it.