After a decade-long run as the face of the Vikings franchise, Adrian Peterson will become a free agent for the first time in his superlative career when the new league year kicks off on March 9.
Peterson was due to count a prohibitive $18 million against the salary cap — more than twice the next highest running-back figure (LeSean McCoy’s $8.9 million) in the league.
When interested teams pore over his game film and forecast his future, they will find Peterson to be a tricky evaluation.
Between his 2014 banishment to the Commissioner’s Exempt list and his 2016 meniscus tear, he has played just 19 games in the last three years. In between, he reclaimed his spot atop the NFL rushing throne in 2015.
Running behind one of the least effective offensive lines of the 21st century, Peterson managed a league-low 1.9 yards per carry on a minuscule sample size last season. Draw grand, sweeping conclusions on those scant 37 attempts at your own peril.
Considering his fresh legs, exceptional talent level and a sterling track record of recovering from injuries, Peterson is a strong candidate to bounce back with the best age-32 rushing season in history if his surgically repaired knee is healthy. That’s a Brobdingnagian “if.”
The biggest concerns are three-fold.
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Time marches on. The frequency of Peterson’s long runs declined in 2015, in line with studies that show running-back production decreases sharply from ages 28 to 30. Since the 1970 merger, backs of his age have reached the 1,000-yard mark just 10 times.
Just as problematic, Peterson is an I-formation foundation back in an increasingly pass-heavy era of specialization. The game is evolving away from his cheap jerseys and skill set.
When Peterson entered the league in 2007, no team had ever utilized the shotgun formation on more than half of its offensive plays. Last season, 80.4 percent of passing plays and 63.6 percent of all offensive plays started in shotgun, per NFL Research.
Over 90 percent of Peterson’s career carries have come with the quarterback under center as opposed to the shotgun. At this stage of his career, he’s a clear liability on wholesale jerseys passing downs, lacking the fluid lateral agility to consistently make defenders miss at the catch point.
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Until an amenable solution is reached — a release or a re-worked contract — we will hear more quotes like this:
“Adrian Peterson has a significant contract coming up. We have to make a decision,” Spielman said. “I’m not going to announce anything, but that will get addressed here before free agency starts. The one thing I will say is, if we don’t exercise that option, we will always keep the door open on all of our players. But in my mind, regardless if Adrian is here or not here next year — because of whatever happens — he will always be a Minnesota Viking. If he’s fortunate enough to go in the Hall of Fame, and fortunate enough to go in the Ring of Honor, in my mind, he’s a Minnesota Viking.”
We don’t necessarily blame Spielman for the banal platitudes here. It would be very much against his best interest to tip the organization’s hand before an undoubtedly emotional negotiation with the best player in recent franchise history.
Meanwhile, Peterson will continue to list his ideal landing spots and play footsie with the Giants on Twitter.
Minnesota’s running backs were often hit in the backfield, creating long down-and-distances, hamstringing the offense. The Vikings allowed 45 negative runs last season, according to NFL stats.
The coach was not asked on camera about Adrian Peterson, which is the biggest question mark surrounding the Vikings’ backfield this offseason. All Day is not expected to return to Minnesota under his current deal, and has spent the past month discussing which other teams with which he might sign. Whether those talks are in hopes to fuel a better deal from the Vikings when the time comes remains to be seen.
Beyond Peterson and the ground game, Zimmer noted that protecting the quarterback also would be a priority in 2017. Both the run and pass causes would be greatly aided by fixing the offensive line. One of the worst units in the NFL killed the rushing attack and got quarterback Sam Bradford jersey nearly killed several times.
Without a run threat, play action on NFL jerseys wholesale was futile and defenses could tee-off on Bradford, forcing the Vikings to become a dink-and-dunk offense.
Entering his fourth year as Vikings head coach, Zimmer said he’s spending more time in the offensive meeting rooms than he has in the past to help fix that side of the ball.
“We finished 8-8, which is disappointing, and that’s probably a good thing,” Zimmer said. “We’re not happy to be where we are.
“There’s an old saying where the first step in going somewhere is deciding you’re not going to stay where you’re at.”
The first step on offense for Zimmer is finding a run game that disappeared last season.