The Minnesota Vikings did not exercise the 2017 option on Adrian Peterson, which would have put his 2017 cap hit at 18 million, over twice as much as the next highest running back. Peterson is one of the best running backs of all time but it would have been extremely difficult for the Vikings to justify carrying that 18 million into the season.
Peterson is one of the best running backs to ever play the game. After being drafted 7th overall in the 2007 draft, Peterson made an immediate impact his rookie year. He won rookie of the year and has since won an MVP award, set the record for most rush yards in a game, and has made an All-Pro team in every season that was not shortened due to injury or league discipline. Peterson currently sits at 16th all-time in rushing yards, but could break into the top ten with a thousand yard season. He is also currently 10th all-time in rushing touchdowns, and nine touchdowns in 2017 would put him in a tie with Jim Brown for 5th most all time.
It seems like a player with Peterson’s pedigree would be one of the most sought after players in the NFL and no team would let him get away. But Peterson will be 32 once the season begins, and the general rule of thumb for running backs is expect drop off at age 30. Peterson has proved he is a super human by recovering from an ACL and MCL in roughly 8 months. The injury was suffered December 24th, 2011, yet he played in the season opener in 2012 on September 9th, 2012 and won the MVP Award during the 2012 season. Although generally regarded as the best running back in the NFL over his career, he has not appeared in too many games as of recently. Due to an off-the-field incident regarding disciplining his son, Peterson only appeared in one game in 2014. He came back to lead the league in rushing in 2015, playing in every single game. In 2016, Peterson suffered a torn meniscus and missed all but three games, totaling only 37 rushing attempts.
There are a multitude of factors that could come into play when Peterson decides on where his next season will be played, yet we have no idea how he will prioritize those factors. We can assume that offensive line play, the current running back situation, the quarterback, if the team is competing for a championship, the contract situation, and location are all things he will take into consideration.
I am going to break down what teams I feel have a realistic shot at landing Peterson. This is not based on anything but my own opinion and how from my perspective I think he will go about things. Teams are listed as unlikely, likely, or most likely. Even the teams listed as unlikely are on here for a reason, so there is still a semi-chance Peterson would go there. There could always be a surprise team but I would be shocked if AP was not playing for one of the following teams in 2017.
Peterson grew up in Texas as a Cowboys fan. It was reported years ago that Peterson and Jerry Jones had once spoke about Peterson potentially playing for the Cowboys later in his career. Could that time be now? Peterson going to the Cowboys makes so much sense, yet so little sense at the same time. The Cowboys, led by rookie quarterback-running back duo Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot, had an impressive 2016 season and came within seconds of heading to the NFC Championship game. They will go into the 2017 season as a lot of people’s choice to come out of the NFC. The Cowboys have one of, if not the, best offensive lines in the NFL. All the lineman are relatively young so it would not be shocking if it improved from 2016 to 2017. PFF rated the Cowboys’ offensive line second best in the NFL in 2016. There are two big question marks regarding Peterson to the Cowboys. The first is what would they pay him? The Cowboys currently have the least amount of cap space in the NFL and have lots of holes on defense to fill. This goes along with the second big question, what would the backfield look like? Ezekiel Elliott was the 2016 Offensive Rookie of the Year and looks like a true number one running back for the next ten years, barring injury. Is Adrian Peterson willing to go to a team where he would not be the lead back and would most likely be leaving money on the table elsewhere? Peterson and Elliott would be easily the best running back duo in the NFL and if they stayed injury free, the Cowboys could have one of the best rushing seasons as a team ever. Peterson getting 8-12 carries a game behind one of the best offensive lines in football would keep him fresh and have limit the potential for injury. It would also keep the young Elliott from being overworked at too young of an age. Peterson would just have to be ok with not being the lead back and be ok taking less money than he is accustomed to. These are two big factors, even though everything else fits, and it is enough on both the Cowboys’ and Peterson’s to make this fit not work out.
Likelihood: Peterson would have to have his heart set on playing in Dallas and getting a small paycheck. Unlikely
New England Patriots
Does winning the Super Bowl and then adding one of the best running backs of all time not just seem like the ultimate Bill Belichick move? LeGarrette Blount led the NFL in rushing touchdowns in 2016 with 18. Can you imagine what Peterson could do with Belichick as his coach and a quarterback as good as Tom Brady behind center? PFF rated the Patriots’ offensive line tenth in the NFL in 2016. Definitely not as elite as some of the other teams on this list but definitely serviceable, especially considering teams couldn’t stack the box with the threat of Brady and all his weapons. AP wouldn’t be asked to do much on third down with James White and Dion Lewis taking care of that role. It is exciting to think about the possibilities of what this offense could do, but I don’t think there is all that much reason to get excited. Belichick is well known for getting rid of a player a year too early rather than a year too late. He is also known for not overpaying players. With AP’s injury history and age, I just can’t see Belichick offering any substantial amount of money. This would be arguably the least Belichick move we would have ever seen from him, but maybe that is what makes it the ultimate Belichick move. The fact that other teams will almost assuredly offer him more money than the Patriots, along with the cold winters in New England, this just does not seem likely.
Likelihood: Belichick is not shelling out money to a 32 year old running back. Unlikely
Green Bay Packers
If Brett Farve can play the majority of his career in Green Bay, then finish it out in Minnesota, why can’t Peterson do the reverse? The Packers were a running back away from a Super Bowl appearance this past year. Ty Montgomery would make a nice compliment to Peterson and the Packers would be able to let the inconsistent Eddie Lacy walk in free agency. The Packers had the fifth best offensive line in football, as rated by PFF. Aarons Rodgers is the best quarterback in football right now and both he and Peterson have made a career out of putting out play after play of just things no one in the NFL could ever do. The Packers have a history of not bringing in pricey free agents, but with the 12th most cap space in the NFL and an aging Rodgers, this might be the time to make the exception. The Packers could probably match, within reason, any other offer Peterson is going to get this year. Something about Peterson strikes me as not wanting to swap a purple and gold jersey for a yellow and green and have to play his old team twice a year. Not only that, but it isn’t getting any warmer by moving to Green Bay.
Likelihood: AP doesn’t seem like someone who would go play for his career rival and Green Bay generally doesn’t bring in big name free agents. But we have seen players in jerseys we would have never expected and Green Bay needs to give Rodgers a running game. Likely
This situation would be all about the money. I don’t know if the Browns would have any interest paying AP a lot of money and I don’t know if there is enough money in the world to make him go there, but crazier things have happened. I can’t think of one but I’m sure at some point there was. There is a reason the Browns are picking number one in the upcoming draft. The Browns could use an upgrade at pretty much every position and they are not going to become contenders by adding a soon-to-be 32 year old Peterson. Bringing Peterson to Cleveland would give them a superstar name that they haven’t had in a while. It would give them a jersey to sell and a way to get fans excited about what will inevitably be another losing season. We have no idea who the quarterback is going to be, but it is a safe bet that whoever it is will be in the lower tier of NFL quarterbacks. The offensive line is probably the strongest positional group on the roster. PFF rated them the sixteenth best in the league, but it would not be a surprise to see them jump up a few spots during the 2017 season. Peterson would get as many touches as he could handle in Cleveland, but his stats would most likely not look great. Opposing defenses will know exactly how to stop Cleveland’s offense, just like teams did against the Rams this year by loading the box and not letting Todd Gurley break any big gains. It all just comes back to the money. The Browns have over 100 million in cap space and it is going to be difficult to spend all that. The Browns could decide that significantly overpaying Peterson is worth it for two or three years in the hope he is a leader in the locker room and brings some excitement to the fan base. The other side of it is this rebuilding team may not want to bring in an overpaid veteran to this rebuilding team, which could negatively effect chemistry and team development. On AP’s end, the only draw in going to Cleveland would be the money. We as fans expect players to follow their heart or put winning first and take discounts, but if Cleveland offers 12 million a year and everyone else is offering 5 million, that is tough to turn down.
Likelihood: Only if it is about the $$$. Unlikely
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
It would not be a shock if in the next couple days the Bucs release Doug Martin, their talented, yet wildly inconsistent running back, which would open up the position for the team. The financial side is a big positive in coming to Tampa Bay. Florida has no state income tax so he is saving money there. The Bucs also have the third most cap space in the NFL right now, which coming off a 9-7 season is a rarity. A 9-7 teams means you are usually just a couple key players away from making a serious run. For the Bucs, running back is one of those positions. The Bucs should be able to match just about any contract thrown at Peterson. PFF graded Tampa as the 23rd best offensive line in the NFL, but the line is fairly young, and with all the cap space, a free agent or two can be brought in. Jameis Winston is no Brady or Rodgers, but he seems like a quarterback whose team just rallies around him and someone I would want to be playing with. This is an overall very young team on the cusp of being very good, and there is just something appealing about coming in as a veteran leader and helping a young team reach a level of greatness they otherwise may never have gotten to. The weather doesn’t hurt either. 75 and sunny in December beats -5 and snowing in Minnesota any day of the week.
Likelihood: Probably the nicest weather on this list, the chance to be a lead back, and the money is available. Likely
Just because the Vikings didn’t exercise the option for Peterson’s 2017 contract, doesn’t necessarily mean the door is closed on a return to Minnesota. General manager Rock Spielman said he would like Peterson back and Peterson said the “door is still open,” when speaking on a return to Minnesota. PFF ranked Minnesota’s offensive line as the 4th worst in the NFL. The Vikings have the 14th most cap space available and no first round pick so it would be difficult for the offensive line to improve. Sam Bradford is an average quarterback, yet the defense is one of the better ones in the league. Whether Peterson returns to the Vikings or not, I don’t think many people will be picking the Vikings to win the NFC North, let alone be a Super Bowl contender. Returning to Minnesota would be the least exciting option on this list. It is exciting to see an elite player change teams and alter the landscape of the NFL, something Peterson could do. We tend to forget the human side of professional athletes when thinking about trades and free agency. Moving to a new city, meeting new people, and what essentially equates to keeping the same job title, but working for another business, is all very stressful. Sometimes staying at home is the right move, especially when home is paying you millions of dollars. This franchise has stuck by AP through his injuries, and although they may not have handled the suspended season perfectly, it seems like amends have been made. Peterson would be able to end his Hall of Fame career where he started it. That career would just most likely not have a Super Bowl win. It would however, be the most financially lucrative career in the history of running backs.
Likelihood: Finishing out his career where he started it and a team that desperately needs him. Most likely 1A
New York Giants
The Giants currently have the 6th least cap space in the NFL and many free agents of their own I’m sure they would like to bring back. But when AP tweets about a team, they have to be included on the list. On February 15th, Peterson tweeted “The Giants been making some interesting moves.” That’s it. Nothing more but that one tweet can send the media into frenzy, just like Isaiah Thomas recently did at the NBA trade deadline. I’d like to assume “interesting” is a positive thing, as AP had at least taken notice of it. PFF graded the offensive line 20th in the NFL, and there really wouldn’t be any means of improving it before the 2017 season. Eli Manning is a decent quarterback and it would be nice having OBJ taking up a lot of the defense’s focus, but the offense doesn’t have all that much more. This is a solid defense that might even turn into one of the best in the NFL. This move just doesn’t make them instant Super Bowl favorites, or even NFC favorites, like it does with some of the other teams on this list. Finishing out his career in the largest media market in America would be nice and we have to recognize that AP has at least noticed the Giants, but this has to be considered very unlikely. The money just isn’t there, New York isn’t home like Dallas is, and this is not making you a Super Bowl favorite.
Likelihood: The money just won’t be available and you are not even guaranteed a playoff birth. Doesn’t matter what he tweeted. Unlikely
Something about this, I can just picture Peterson in a Raiders uniform. And when picturing him, he has the spikes coming out of his shoulder pads like the fans wear. Peterson’s style and mentality just seem to fit in Oakland. There have also been reports that Peterson is “intrigued,” by Oakland, specifically their offensive line, which PFF ranked as the 4th best in football in 2016. There is an argument to be made that they are a top two offensive line despite the rankings. The Raiders also looked like one of the few threats to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC before Derek Carr went down with a broken fibula. Carr is expected to be back at full strength for 2017 and is one of the best young quarterbacks in football. Receiver Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper make it so teams have to game plan for both of them as star receivers, which takes some attention away from the running game. Oakland has one of the most balanced rosters in football. There are some holes to fill on this defense but with the 9th most cap space in the NFL, Oakland has the money to sign Peterson and still do some spending. The Raiders are a Super Bowl contender with or without AP, they have a great young quarterback who has plenty of weapons of his own on offense, one of the best offensive lines in the league, a solid defense, plenty of money to spend, and they are in a warm location. The biggest holdup is what the running back situation will look like. 2016 lead back Latavius Murray, who put up great stats, is an unrestricted free agent. Murray is no AP talent wise, but he is only 27 and will probably be cheaper, or around the same price as Peterson. The Raiders look like they can be a contender for the next 10 years with their current core group of young players. Would they be willing to let one of those players leave, only to replace him with an older player who has had trouble staying on the field the last couple seasons? The ideal situation would be bringing in both players, but financially that is unrealistic. It will be interesting to see what Oakland does with its running back situation, as it is one of the offseason stories that could have a drastic effect on the 2017 season.
Likelihood: Great offensive line, overall good team. Warm weather. Most likely 1B
This is the one no one wants to hear about or see happen, but it is a possibility. Peterson seems intent on playing at least another year, but there is always the chance he calls it quits. I don’t see that happening, especially after how last season went, but there is a possibility. Peterson could decide that he has made his money and is going to value health, time with family, or something else more than playing another year of football. Especially if he is not getting the amount of money he is used to getting paid, there is a chance he decides it is not worth it anymore. He would end his career as one of the best to ever play and would be a first ballot Hall of Famer when his time came.
All offensive line rankings from: