For the last several years, Adrian Peterson has seemingly been on borrowed time. He tore his ACL and MCL at the tail end of the 2011 campaign, which was also the first time in his career he failed to rush for 1,000 yards. But Peterson defied the odds, returning for Week 1 the following season, less than 10 months after the injury had occurred. It was his best season ever –– he recorded career highs in rushing (2,097 yards) and yards per game (131) –– and it ended with him taking home the MVP trophy.
Two years later, Peterson’s future was in doubt for a different reason. He was indicted for child abuse and placed on the commissioner’s exempt list after just two regular season games. Roger Goodell later suspended Peterson indefinitely, but a U.S. District Court judge overturned the punishment (the NFL won its appeal this past August). Despite squabbling with the Minnesota Vikings over their tepid support of him during his absence, Peterson was awarded an additional $20 million guaranteed when his contract was restructured last summer. He went on to lead the league in rushing in 2015.
Now, Peterson is dealing with another major setback. He was diagnosed with a torn meniscus this week, and the Vikings put him on injured reserve Friday afternoon. His surgery was successful Thursday.
This time around, it may not be feasible for Peterson to bounce backAt 31 years old, he’s already outlived the shelf life of most running backs. With his performance dramatically declining, the Vikings may not be in a hurry to take him back, either.
What kind of running back is Peterson now?
Not the one he used to be. This season, the seven-time Pro Bowler averaged a dismal 1.6 yards per carry on 31 rushes. But his struggles date back towards the end of last season. As ESPN’s Trey Wingo notes, Peterson ranks last in yards among running backs with at least 40 carries since Week 13 of the 2015 campaign.
History says running backs over 30 are often finished. In the Super Bowl era, which covers the last 50 years, only 44 running backs older than 30 have rushed for 1,000 yards in a season. Peterson was the only person who did it last year, but it’s unlikely he’ll reach that plateau again.
Will Peterson’s injury hurt the Vikings?
The Vikings’ offense has been ravaged by injuries so far this season. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater tore his ACL at the end of training camp and offensive tackle Matt Kalil was recently placed on IR with a hip injury. Both of their absences could dramatically hamper the Vikings. But Peterson’s probably won’t.
The truth is, Jerick McKinnon is almost certainly a better back than Peterson right now. The 2014 third-round pick rushed for 538 yards in 11 games while Peterson was out during the 2014 season and averaged 5.2 yards per attempt in limited time last year. Overall, McKinnon has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 168 career tries.
In addition to McKinnon, who could also be used in the passing game, the Vikings have Matt Asiata to back him up. He was a monster in the red zone in 2014, scoring nine touchdowns. Veteran Ronnie Hillman was signed Wednesday for depth purposes as well.
Though Peterson has been on the field, his production has been missing since last November. Given how poorly he was playing, the Vikings can withstand this loss.
Does Peterson have a future in Minnesota?
The Vikings reportedly want Peterson to stick around. According to NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport, they view him as a valued member of the organization and want him to retire in Minnesota.
But to make that happen, Peterson will probably have to take a substantial paycut. The Vikings owe Peterson $17.75 million in 2017 with a whopping $6 million roster bonus that’s due in March. He’ll almost certainly be asked to restructure that deal.
It’s unlikely Peterson will have much leverage at the negotiation table, especially if Minnesota continues to win in his absence and makes the playoffs for a second straight season. Last year, it would’ve been easy for the Vikings to cut ties with Peterson. He was coming off a nasty child abuse case and brought forth an array of bad publicity. But the organization kept Peterson on board and even rewarded him with an additional $20 million in guaranteed money.
The Vikings scratched Peterson’s back when they didn’t have to. Now his future in Minnesota may come down to whether he returns the favor.