MINNEAPOLIS — Adrian Peterson, Minnesota’s all-time leading rusher and a first-team All-Pro pick in four of his 10 seasons with the Vikings, will be an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career when the market opens next week.
The Vikings as expected said Tuesday they will not exercise their option for 2017 on Peterson’s contract, which called for him to make $18 million. That would have been an unwieldly hit to their salary cap and by far the highest figure in the NFL for a running back. Pittsburgh’s decision to place the franchise tag on Le’Veon Bell will likely mean a $12 million-plus salary for the 25-year-old, but nobody else at the position in the league is even close.
The Vikings left the door open for Peterson to return to the team that drafted him in 2007 with the seventh overall pick, only at a much lower price. The fact that they announced their decision nine days before the deadline was an indication that little dialogue about a new deal has taken place to date. General manager Rick Spielman told reporters last week that he had not yet spoken at that point to Peterson or his agents about the future.
“Adrian is an important part of the Minnesota Vikings organization,” Spielman said Tuesday. “We will continue to have conversations with his representatives and leave our future options open while determining what is best for both parties moving forward.”
Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, didn’t return messages from The Associated Press. Peterson told ESPN he spoke with Spielman over the weekend.
“It’s been a great 10 years with the Minnesota Vikings. They know what I bring to the organization as a player, with my work ethic and dedication,” Peterson said, according to the network. “The door is still open to find some common ground. I understand addressing the offensive line is one of their main priorities this offseason. In the meantime, I will explore my other options and see what path God leads me on. My main goal remains the same: to win a Super Bowl championship with a great team, which I also believe we have in Minnesota.”
Peterson has occasionally hinted at interest in playing elsewhere, even cryptically tweeting last week that the New York Giants have intrigued him with their recent moves that included releasing wide receiver Victor Cruz and running back Rashad Jennings to make space under the salary cap. Before the 2014 season, an ESPN profile on Dallas owner Jerry Jones revealed a casual phone conversation between Peterson and Jones during which the running back expressed his desire to one day play for the Cowboys team he grew up rooting for in East Texas.
Peterson, who turns 32 in three weeks, is coming off a meniscus tear in his right knee that limited him to 72 yards on 37 carries over parts of three games in 2016. He suited up only once in 2014 because of the child abuse case he was involved in. Even with the league-leading 1,485 yards he rushed for in 2015 and factoring in his receiving totals, Peterson has cost the Vikings about $18,000 per yard over the last three years. He also has limited passing-game skills that the majority of standout running backs in the league possess, with little experience running out of the shotgun or pistol formations that most teams favor in the current pass-heavy NFL.
In another sobering reminder of the short shelf life for players at this position, Kansas City also released 30-year-old and four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles on Tuesday. Charles is eighth on the active career rushing list; Peterson is second behind Frank Gore.
Since recovering from ACL reconstruction on his left knee to rush for 2,097 yards in 2012 and win the NFL MVP award, Peterson has expressed particular defiance toward the evidence that running backs wear down by age 30. He has long said he believes he can play deep into his 30s.
The Vikings, though, have dire needs on the offensive line to address. This class of running backs in the upcoming draft also is considered one of the deepest in years, a point that Spielman made without prompting in his interview last week.
The betting books in Las Vegas didn’t miss an opportunity to set the market. Bovada pegged Peterson’s return to the Vikings at 5-to-1 odds, trailing only the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3 to 1). The Giants and Chiefs were also set at 5 to 1.