The Minnesota Vikings have reached uncharted levels of turbulence, which is an astonishing feat for an organization whose history is checkered with bizarre crisis. Adrian “AD (All Day)” Peterson was not only the face of the franchise, but he’d been the identity of Minnesota sports and entertainment for nearly a decade. In fact, many ran with the moniker “Purple Jesus,” on account of his otherworldly physical being and outspoken Christianity. Athletes should never be held up as role models, but he was surely the exception.
Until he wasn’t.
Still, a large segment of the fan base remains willing to forgive and move forward with the future Hall of Famer in purple. Insultingly, Peterson has stiff-armed said forgiveness. Instead of owning his self-imposed adversity, he’s chosen to flip the script and play the victim card.
General Manager Rick Spielman, who’s earning every penny of his paychecks these days, has been left with exactly two options…
Option 1: Play Hardball
The Pros: With Peterson under contract through 2017, the Vikings have “play for us or play for nobody” leverage. At 30, he’d be the oldest member of the starting offense, but he’s already proven the ability to bend the laws of nature. His presence in the backfield would likely make the team 2-3(?) wins better in 2015, and would be invaluable to 22-year-old QB Teddy Bridgewater. Peterson’s presence would completely change defensive game plans, forcing the opponent to respect and commit resources to the run game. Opponents could no longer pin their ears back against a shaky offensive line. With Peterson on board, the 2015 Vikings would be a playoff contender.
The Cons: Wouldn’t it be nice if it were that simple? Unfortunately, everything out of Peterson’s “Triangle of Authority” (Adrian, new wife Ashley and agent Ben Dogra) has screamed that he wants a fresh start somewhere else. He could choose to sit out for a second consecutive season, and forego the generous $12.75M he’s owed, but the far more likely scenario is that he’d suit up and drag the drama into the season.
For an organization that’s building a new stadium and a fresh young foundation centered around Bridgewater, prolonging what’s becoming an irreconcilable standoff may not be worth the headache. From a business perspective, attempts to regain goodwill with fans, press and sponsors would be awkward at best.
Option 2: Trade Him
The Pros: The list of suitors may realistically be as shallow as Arizona and Tampa Bay. Yahoo!’s Charles Robinson has reported that the Cardinals are “one thousand percent in (on Peterson)” and would be willing to trade their R2 pick (No. 55 overall). On the surface, a late second seems like a pittance for an MVP-caliber player, but age, salary and baggage weigh heavily into Peterson’s valuation.
The 2015 draft is deep with RB talent, so if the organization favors a committee approach (we still don’t know exactly how they view impressive 2014 rookie Jerick McKinnon), they’d have an extra bullet and numerous young, cheap options. For reference, picks 55-57 of last year’s draft were Jeremy Hill, Cody Latimer and Carlos Hyde.
While many are opposed to “selling low,” the truth is that Peterson’s trade value will never be higher than it is now. Next season, he’ll be a year older and $2M more expensive ($14.75M). The team surely wouldn’t get anything near a R2 pick in trade a year from now. In fact, with no more dead money on his contract in 2016, Peterson would be a cut candidate even if he were healthy and happy.
The Cons: Subtracting a generational talent from the roster will undoubtedly cost the team wins, at least in the short term. There are no guarantees with draft picks, and at this stage of free agency, most of the money freed up would likely be pocketed for future use.
Even with Peterson, the Vikings wouldn’t realistically be in position to advance through the NFC playoffs, so taking the long view seems like the most logical approach. A R2 pick is a bitter pill to swallow, but I believe it’s the better of two bad options.