(Eds: Updates with quotes, details and background.)By JON KRAWCZYNSKIAP Sports Writer
Adrian Peterson takes a look around the league and sees big money flying everywhere.
Arizona gave receiver Larry Fitzgerald $50 million guaranteed. Cleveland gave left tackle Joe Thomas $44 million guaranteed. Carolina running back DeAngelo Williams got $21 million.
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All he does is sit back and smile as the price tag for elite talent in the league goes up and up and up. There is no bitterness at the Vikings for not locking him up yet as he prepares to start the final year of his rookie contract.
There is no jealousy at his superstar brethren who are getting paid handsomely now that the new collective bargaining agreement has taken effect.
There is only the self-assured comfort that comes from knowing his big deal will come soon enough, either in Minnesota or somewhere else.
”Yeah, I’m sure a lot of people are excited to see that, eight years, 120, 50 guaranteed,” Peterson said of Fitzgerald’s deal. ”I’m a fan of him. I’m happy that he got that deal done.”
Peterson is making $10.7 million in the final year of his rookie contract, so the sense of urgency to get a new deal isn’t as pressing for him as it is for others who are making far less, like Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, who is holding out this preseason.
Johnson is due to make $1.065 million in 2011, though the Titans have pledged to make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL.
Even though Peterson and Johnson have traded barbs over the last few years over who is the league’s best running back, Peterson said he hopes to see the speedy Johnson get the money he deserves.
”Hey, take care of him. He deserves to be taken care of,” Peterson said. ”Their owners saying they are going to make him the highest paid back has nothing to do with me, as far as (do) I feel bad? Nah, pay the guy.”
Vikings coach Leslie Frazier has said on multiple occasions that keeping No. 28 in purple is one of the team’s top priorities. Peterson’s agent Ben Dogra has had conversations with the Vikings about an extension, but nothing appears to be imminent on that front.
The fact remains that Peterson’s dynamic first four seasons in the league have earned him every incentive from his rookie contract, making him the highest-paid running back in the NFL this season. If a deal doesn’t get done this season, the Vikings could put the franchise tag on him, which would push his two-year compensation for 2011 and ’12 to around $26 million. That would put his career earnings at more than $40 million, and that’s not counting the numerous lucrative endorsement deals he’s signed over the last few years.
Then he would be a free agent at 28 years old and, assuming he continues the record-setting pace he has set in his first four seasons in the league, will get the big long-term deal that everyone is talking about right now.
The more pivotal question is not how much money will he make, but rather who will be the one to cut the check? Peterson is making enough money through contracts and endorsements to allow him to consider the direction of the franchise more than the size of the check, much like cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who took a little less money than he was making with the Raiders to sign with the contenders in Philadelphia.
The Vikings are two years removed from the NFC title game and coming off of a disastrous 6-10 season with a leaky offensive line. They added quarterback Donovan McNabb and still have receiver Percy Harvin and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe in the mix, but the supporting cast gets a little thin after that.
”I feel like we have the right pieces around. We have talent at quarterback,” Peterson said. ”I’m all right at the running back position. And we’ve got Percy Harvin, Shiancoe, and the defense is always stable. So we’ve got a lot of good pieces in place to, you know, each week just mold more together to win that championship.”
The way this year goes could play a big role in Peterson’s desire to work out a long-term deal to stay here. A good start could assuage any concerns about the franchise going in the wrong direction. A slow one? That could cause him to think long and hard about his prospects of winning a championship here.
He has been asked several times during training camp if he wants to stay with the Vikings and has side-stepped the question like a would-be tackler in the flats.
”I’ve been thinking about this season because this is what’s present now,” Peterson said when asked about the future in Minnesota. ”As of now, we have what it takes to be able to accomplish the ultimate goal.”
The biggest risk mentioned in not getting a deal done now is injury. Peterson plays arguably the most brutal position in the game, one that is known for its short shelf life.
Taking out an insurance policy could help with that, and Peterson isn’t buying that he will hit the wall at 30 like many of the game’s great running backs have. He’s proven to be a different kind of running back ever since he entered the league in 2007. The way he sees it, why should that change in four years?
”It’s just all about how they make a label out and that’s what people go by because that’s what they’re used to hearing,” Peterson said. ”Five, six years, that’s what expectations for running backs are.
”Who knows that? Who does the science to come up with that? Each individual is different. But you know, that’s just how this world, we operate. You say something and then everybody look at it and that’s what it is. No matter what the person is, but I disagree.”
Jon Krawczynski can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/APkrawczynski.