Vikings all-world tailback Adrian Peterson is entering the final season of his current contract, but to his credit, he is handling his situation much differently than fellow back Chris Johnson, who up until this point, has yet to report to Tennessee Titans’ training camp until he gets a new deal.
Peterson, who has just as much or perhaps even more leverage than Johnson does if he chose to holdout, is instead choosing to focus on the football season ahead and not dwell on his contractual situation.
“I’m not worried about my contract at all. At all,” Peterson said, according to the AP’s Jon Krawczynski. “My main focus is doing what I can do, learn this offense and help the Minnesota Vikings win the Super Bowl.”
For Vikings fans, this is a refreshing and comforting stance that Peterson has taken, but it doesn’t solve the epic dilemma that the Vikings and their front office will have to face at some point this season: Is Adrian Peterson worth the large amount of money it will ultimately require to keep him in Minnesota for the rest of his career?
For the casual fans who have watched Peterson obliterate opposing tacklers and score countless dazzling touchdowns throughout his career, the easy answer is “yes, get this guy locked up for the next seven years.”
But for those concerned with the long-term well-being of this team, the answer might not be so clear.
Larry Fitzgerald’s astounding 8-year $120 million extension ($50 million guaranteed!) from the Cardinals has set the bar very high for other elite players looking for extensions.
And while everyone knows that a wide receiver’s career lifespan is much longer than a typical running back’s, Peterson (and Johnson) could argue that they are every bit as elite and important to their teams’ success as Fitzgerald is for Arizona.
Peterson will surely command a contract worth much more than Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams signed that guaranteed him more than $21 million. Williams is an oft-injured player who shares time with a younger and equally talented back in Jonathan Stewart, while Peterson is arguably the best non-QB in all of the world.
But, again, Peterson is a running back. Is a running back, any running back, no matter how otherworldly, worth such a huge chunk of a team’s payroll? Or should the Vikings explore trade options for their franchise player?
Initially, the idea of trading Peterson sounds like one of those crazy ideas that’s designed specifically for shock-jock talk radio. Why on earth would a team want to trade its best player?
But let’s face it, barring a surprising rebirth from QB Donovan McNabb, the Vikings aren’t going to contend for a Super Bowl any time soon. Cornerstone players Steve Hutchinson, Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield and EJ Henderson are all probably past their prime playing years, and even though the level of parody is high in today’s NFL, it might be fair to say the Vikings are in the midst of rebuilding for the future.
Christian Ponder, Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph are a nice set of young players, but overall, it could be argued that by the time the rest of the team is rebuilt and ready to be a contender again, Peterson might be past his prime as well.
He’s already 26, and while that’s not old by any means, the rule of thumb for running backs is that after age 30 (depending on their workload throughout their career), their productivity and explosiveness leaves them rapidly.
Additionally, success in today’s NFL is most definitely dependent on the passing game. Very rarely does a team built around an elite running back make it deep into the playoffs if it doesn’t also have a great quarterback and defense.
Obviously, if the Vikings can supplement Peterson with a passing attack and a defense, that would be ideal. But that brings us back to question about the size of his new contract.
Signing a running back, even one as good as Peterson, to a Fitzgerald-like deal would handcuff the franchise in its ability to surround Peterson with sufficient talent to contend quickly.
Remember back when Kevin Garnett signed his first huge contract extension with the Timberwolves years ago, it restricted the amount of room the team had to add other quality pieces. It’s a different sport, but the point is that it’s nice to lock up the superstar to be there for years to come, but ultimately, how helpful is it if you can’t add other players to help your star?
It’s a decision the Vikings have to make. Obviously, simply letting Peterson walk after this season isn’t an appealing option. And if the asking price become too high to resign him, perhaps a trade would be the best option.
If a team on the cusp of winning it all (San Diego, Dallas, New England, etc.) was willing to part with a couple of young prospects or draft picks in return for an electrifying running back who could push them over the top, wouldn’t the Vikings have to listen?
Now, I’m not calling for Zygi to deal Peterson. I would be disappointed to see him go, especially in a year when ownership is trying to get a stadium deal finalized.
The fan base would certainly not be pleased to see the face of the franchise traded for draft picks. But my point is that the team needs to be careful with Peterson’s extension.
The running back position is becoming increasingly less important as the game becomes more and more geared towards the passing game, and more and more teams are going with a “running back by committee” approach.
And while Peterson is undoubtedly a dominant player at this point of his career, the Vikings shouldn’t break the bank for him and jeopardize their ability to build a complete team just to appease the fans.
Winning will appease fans. And the Vikings’ front office needs to decide if resigning Peterson to a maximum deal is the best way to win.