Peterson was due to count a prohibitive $18 million against the salary cap — more than twice the next highest running-back figure (LeSean McCoy‘s $8.9 million) in the league.
When interested teams pore over his game film and forecast his future, they will find Peterson to be a tricky evaluation.
Between his 2014 banishment to the Commissioner’s Exempt list and his 2016 meniscus tear, he has played just 19 games in the last three years. In between, he reclaimed his spot atop the NFL rushing throne in 2015.
Running behind one of the least effective offensive lines of the 21st century, Peterson managed a league-low 1.9 yards per carry on a minuscule sample size last season. Draw grand, sweeping conclusions on those scant 37 attempts at your own peril.
Considering his fresh legs, exceptional talent level and a sterling track record of recovering from injuries, Peterson is a strong candidate to bounce back with the best age-32 rushing season in history if his surgically repaired knee is healthy. That’s a Brobdingnagian “if.”
The biggest concerns are three-fold.
Time marches on. The frequency of Peterson’s long runs declined in 2015, in line with studies that show running-back production decreases sharply from ages 28 to 30. Since the 1970 merger, backs of his age have reached the 1,000-yard mark just 10 times.
Just as problematic, Peterson is an I-formation foundation back in an increasingly pass-heavy era of specialization. The game is evolving away from his skill set.
When Peterson entered the league in 2007, no team had ever utilized the shotgun formation on more than half of its offensive plays. Last season, 80.4 percent of passing plays and 63.6 percent of all offensive plays started in shotgun, per NFL Research.
Over 90 percent of Peterson’s career carries have come with the quarterback under center as opposed to the shotgun. At this stage of his career, he’s a clear liability on passing downs, lacking the fluid lateral agility to consistently make defenders miss at the catch point.
The final concern for Peterson’s prospects is a loaded NFL draft class that features first-round talents in Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara. Word around the NFL campfire is that Peterson should expect a soft market for his services.
So where will Peterson ply his trade in 2017? Here’s our list of potential landing spots:
1. Minnesota Vikings: Peterson will be searching for a quality organization with ample cap space, a need at running back and a roster ready to contend for a Super Bowl. With a few tweaks to the offensive line, the Vikings are that team, constructed as a ball-control offense with a stingy defense. Peterson released a statement Tuesday, emphasizing that the “door is still open” for a Minnesota return. Once he explores his options, he might just find that the Vikings are offering the best deal.
2. New York Giants: When Peterson speculated about his next destination last month, he listed the Giants, Bucs and Texans. When Big Blue released veteran back Rashad Jennings a couple of weeks later, Peterson continued his public flirtation. Under Ben McAdoo, the Giants are a shotgun-heavy attack with three receivers and no fullback in the base offense. McAdoo would have to take an eraser to his monstrous play-call sheet if Peterson signed. Perhaps it’s time to lean on his stout defense and an improved ground attack, making life easier for a declining Eli Manning.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs are not only on Peterson’s list of approved teams, but might also be in the market for a workhorse running back. The team could opt to cut ties with Doug Martin after the 2015 Pro Bowler landed in the league’s suspension protocol with a late-season drug issue. Unlike New York, Tampa Bay wouldn’t have to overhaul the offensive philosophy to feature Peterson as the lead runner.
4. Oakland Raiders: The Raiders are ushering Latavius Murray to the open market, creating a vacancy for a power back. They are rumored to be a strong candidate for Peterson’s services, but might prefer to go the draft-pick route and spend their money elsewhere.
5. Houston Texans: As NFL Network’s Randy Moss pointed out Tuesday, Peterson would love to play for the Texans. He grew up near Houston and still lives in the area. It’s hard to conceive of the fit, though, after the Texans paid Lamar Miller feature-back money last offseason. This team desperately needs Tony Romo, not Peterson.
6. New England Patriots: The Pats are similar to the Raiders in that they have a pair of passing-down specialists but their early-down power back is headed to the market. Bill Belichick likes to be an outlier, zigging when the rest of the league zags. If one-dimensional running backs are devalued by the other 31 general managers, perhaps Belichick can swoop in and steal Peterson as he did with an aging Corey Dillon in 2004. If LeGarrette Blount can find the end zone 18 times in a specialized role, what could Peterson accomplish in New England’s friendly offense?
7. Denver Broncos: John Elway has a penchant for splashy additions, and the Broncos‘ running game was a disaster down the stretch last season. It doesn’t hurt that former Vikings offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave is now the quarterbacks coach in Denver.
8. Dallas Cowboys: It’s a testament to Jerry Jones’ unpredictability that the Cowboys made this list with stud three-down back Ezekiel Elliott entrenched as the backfield headliner. Multiple times in the past, Peterson has expressed a desire to finish his career with the Cowboys. He has even called Jones to pitch the idea of teaming up after his Vikings career is over. According to NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport, Jones has said he will pursue Peterson as a sidekick to Elliott.
That idea will generate plenty of headlines in the football world, but it doesn’t solve Peterson’s desire for a steady workload or the Cowboys‘ need to prioritize other positions ahead of an upgrade on Alfred Morris as the 70-carry backup.
Potential landing spots for Adrian Peterson – NFL.com