Here’s what we know: Adrian Peterson will be in the NFL next season. As for what team he’ll be suiting up for? That’s anyone’s guess.
Peterson’s uncertain future has the whole league sweating, particularly the Minnesota Vikings, who are scared to death of losing their franchise running back. Here are three teams that should be in the mix for Peterson, and four others who could make things interesting.
In many ways, this would be the ideal landing spot for Peterson. Arizona was a quarterback away from making noise in the NFC last season. With Carson Palmer on the mend, the Cardinals should be right back in the thick of things in 2015. We all know winning is important to Peterson. Of all the teams vying for Peterson, Arizona may give AP his best chance to win a ring.
It’s no secret the Cards are looking to upgrade at running back. Andre Ellington imploded like a dying star last season, limping his way to a paltry 3.3 yards per carry. At 5’9” and 199 pounds, he isn’t built to be an NFL workhorse. Peterson is.
Acquiring Peterson would require some clever maneuvering on Arizona’s part. Even after Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald agreed to contract restructures, the Cards only have about $9 million in cap space. Between $5 and $6 million of that will go to rookie contracts. Absorbing Peterson’s gargantuan $12.75 million cap hit for next season, a number that rises in 2016 and again the next season, will be tough to pull off. The best piece Arizona can offer is the 24th pick in the draft.
Fantasy owners have to be licking their chops at this possibility. The need is definitely there for Dallas after losing DeMarco Murray to division rival Philadelphia and replacing him with underachieving Darren McFadden. AP can run hog-wild behind the Cowboys’ formidable offensive line. Peterson’s off-field issues shouldn’t deter Dallas, especially after taking a flier on loose cannon Greg Hardy. AT&T Stadium is only a two-hour drive from Peterson’s hometown of Palestine and the running back’s affinity for Dallas is well documented.
It seems like a perfect fit, until you look at the Cowboys’ financial situation. Only the wildly mismanaged Saints have less cap space than Dallas. Even if the Cowboys cut Brandon Carr, Tony Romo restructures his deal and Dez Bryant agrees to a team-friendly extension (which will never happen), finding enough cap room for Peterson would still be a challenge. It may be safer for Dallas to simply grab Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon at the end of the first round.
If we’re taking Peterson’s agent at his word, AP wants out of Minnesota. That’s all well and good, but Peterson still has three years left on his contract. He’s the highest-paid running back in the game and should be for a long time. Peterson can threaten to sit out, but we know how that usually turns out. Like it or not, the Vikings hold all the cards here. If Minnesota doesn’t get an offer it likes, Peterson is stuck playing there. And if he holds out, he won’t get his $12.75 million. It’s that simple.
And let’s face it, Peterson IS a great fit for the Vikings. He always has been. With AP eating up yards at a steady clip, second and third downs will be much more manageable for promising young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Vikings went 7-9 with Matt Asiata and Jerick McKinnon sharing the rock last season, so it’s not unreasonable to think Minnesota could win ten or more games with Peterson moving the chains. Certainly Peterson’s pride has been wounded, but if he can get past whatever perceived wrongs the Vikings committed, he may realize his best bet is to stay with the team that drafted him.
The Long Shots
After basically punting free agency, Atlanta is one of the few teams left that can afford Peterson without ripping its roster apart. With Steven Jackson gone, Atlanta now features the lackluster backfield tandem of Devonta Freeman and Antone Smith. Even in the bleak NFC South, that’s not good enough.
The Falcons may have to face a harsh reality with Julio Jones heading into the final year of his contract. If the two sides can’t agree to an extension, and the franchise tag is too pricey, the Falcons risk losing Jones for nothing. A Jones for Peterson trade would be the blockbuster to end all blockbusters.
Of course, the odds of this happening are slim to none. Jones is the best weapon Matt Ryan has ever had and he’s only 26. Peterson just turned 30. In a passing league, Jones is far more valuable than an aging Peterson. The Falcons are going to do whatever it takes to keep Jones in Atlanta. Trading Jones for Peterson would be a last ditch effort and it wouldn’t make the Falcons’ fan base too happy.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
Never count out the Patriots. For a no-nonsense guy, Bill Belichick sure takes on a lot of reclamation projects. LeGarrette Blount, Corey Dillon, Albert Haynesworth, Chad Johnson and Randy Moss are just a few of the many high-maintenance players who have come through New England during Belichick’s tenure. The controversial Peterson fits the same mold.
New England lost Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen this offseason, leaving them with Blount, Travaris Cadet and Jonas Gray at running back. This anonymous group could become even weaker when Blount’s contract expires at the end of the year. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has made it work with spare parts before, but having an every-down back like Peterson would certainly take a load off Tom Brady’s aging shoulders. After passing on Darrelle Revis in free agency, the Patriots may have just enough dough to make that happen. And if they need more, Brady should be more than willing to restructure his contract. He took less money so the Patriots could pursue Wes Welker two offseasons ago.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Peterson for Philip Rivers, anyone? Hear me out. Rivers is entering the final year of his deal and the team seems content to let him hit the market. The Chargers’ recent interest in Oregon QB Marcus Mariota shows they are already preparing for life after Rivers. After originally saying it didn’t matter, Rivers has backtracked a bit on his willingness to relocate to Los Angeles, which seems like a real possibility for the Chargers if they can work out a joint stadium agreement with the Raiders.
The Chargers also have an opening at running back after losing Ryan Mathews in free agency. Many scouts question Todd Gurley’s durability, making the University of Georgia running back a reach for the Chargers at pick No. 17. Peterson is the game-changing back San Diego has lacked since LaDainian Tomlinson left five years ago.
Of course, swapping Peterson for Rivers would be a gut punch to Bridgewater, who was arguably the league’s most competent rookie quarterback last season. The Vikings would have to decide if one year of Rivers is worth disrupting Bridgewater’s long-term development. As solid as he looked last season, Bridgewater’s ceiling is still a bit of a mystery.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
There’s certainly some optimism in Tampa as Jameis Winston, the Bucs’ likely first-round pick, could be the most talented QB prospect we’ve seen since Andrew Luck. Doug Martin has bottomed out since his breakout year in 2012, leaving the Bucs with an underwhelming backfield. Coming off a season where he barely played, a fresh Peterson could fix that in a hurry.
The Buccaneers showed mild interest in Peterson earlier this offseason but that doesn’t mean the feeling is mutual. Even with Winston under center, Tampa Bay is a long way off from being competitive. At 30, Peterson doesn’t have time to waste. He needs to win now. It’s also uncertain what the Bucs would have to give up to land a talent as monumental as Peterson. It wouldn’t be cheap, that’s for sure.