Adrian Peterson has been the gold standard for running backs since he entered the league as the No. 7 pick in 2007. Now he's on the open market.
Peterson leads all NFL rushers in yards, touchdowns and All-Pro selections over the past 10 years. But the last three years of his Minnesota career have been a Jekyll and Hyde affair, an impressive 2015 season in which he ran for a league-leading 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns with a pair of abbreviated campaigns. He played in just one game in ’14 after child abuse charges landed him on the Reserve/Commissioner Exempt List following child abuse charges in September. Then in ’16, a torn meniscus in his right knee ended his season after just three middling weeks.
With a looming $18 million option and $6 million roster bonus due to Peterson on March 11, the Vikings declined his 2017 option on Tuesday, making the former franchise cornerstone an unrestricted free agent.
Peterson has not ruled out returning to Minnesota on a new deal, saying in a statement, “The door is still open to find some common ground… In the meantime, I will explore my other options and see what path God leads me on.”
Considering the Vikings’ desperate need to rebuild their offensive line and the price Peterson expects to command on the open market, it’s likely that he will start 2017 in a new uniform. But who will pursue a former MVP who will be 32 when next season opens? Here are six other teams who could see a fit for Peterson:
New York Giants
The Giants’ offense struggled to find consistency in 2016, finishing 26th in the league in points per game and failing to score more than 20 points in any of their final six games. New York's shaky line and lack of reliable perimeter weapons alongside Odell Beckham Jr. took some of the blame, but the backfield situation was just as dire.
With recently released veteran Rashad Jennings shouldering the majority of the carries, the Giants finished with the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game. Rookie Paul Perkins showed some flashes in the season’s final weeks but didn't look ready to be the team’s bell-cow back.
The Giants will be in the market for a new back this spring, whether they get one in the draft or in free agency. Peterson alluded to his interest in New York in the wake of Jennings’s release, tweeting in reaction to a handful of salary-shedding moves by the Giants.
Green Bay Packers
From Brett Favre to Greg Jennings, the Packers and Vikings have seen marquee players change sidelines over the past decade of the rivalry's history. Now, Green Bay could twist the knife on their NFC North foes by signing Minnesota’s all-time leading rusher in free agency.
Despite Ty Montgomery’s success at running back toward the end of 2016, the injury-depleted Packers relied increasingly on Aaron Rodgers’s arm down the stretch. Adding Peterson could bring stability to the Green Bay attack and allow the offense to better take control of games on the ground late in the fourth quarter.
However, Peterson’s style might not be the best fit within Mike McCarthy's offense. He has never excelled as a pass catcher out of the backfield and isn’t used to running out of the shotgun and pistol formations that are now Green Bay staples. It would make for juicy headlines, but don’t expect AP to be wearing green and gold in Week 1.
New England Patriots
Bill Belichick has excelled in getting the most out of running backs with some tread on their tires. He revived LeGarrette Blount’s career after the bruising back was cut loose in Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh, and he managed to get over 1600 yards from Corey Dillon in 2004 after Dillon spent seven high-volume years in Cincinnati.
New England’s single-back system is perfect for Peterson’s downhill running style, and by sharing a backfield with Tom Brady and the Patriots’ younger multi-purpose backs, Peterson won’t be counted on to produce at an elite level. If he is looking to chase a championship ring, heading to Foxborough would be his best decision.
Peterson has never been shy about his wish to play in his home state, going back to his time at Oklahoma. The link strengthened when Peterson called Jerry Jones in 2014 about suiting up for the Cowboys following his time in Minnesota, and it was reported in January that Dallas could be a viable option if Peterson was allowed to test the market this spring.
But coming off of Ezekiel Elliott’s standout rookie season, Peterson as a Cowboy seems more like a pipe dream for both parties. Dallas would be better served this off-season shoring up a depleted defensive line, not bolstering its array of offensive weapons. Jones is always in play to make a splash, but Peterson seems unlikely.
New York Jets
The Jets’ offense was a sputtering mess for much of last year, averaging just over 17 points per game and cycling through three starting quarterbacks. Aside from a true franchise QB, it seems unlikely that any one asset could turn things around in one season.
On the other hand, the Jets do have nearly $19 million in cap space and the No. 6 pick in the 2017 draft. Coach Todd Bowles is one year removed from a 10–6 season with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center, and even competent play at the position could yield success.
Add a healthy, productive Peterson to the mix, and the offense could escape the league’s cellar and get closer to league average. Plus, the Jets have had success with veteran backs in the past: LaDainian Tomlinson had a solid 2010 there after nine years in San Diego, and Thomas Jones rushed for 1,000 yards in three straight seasons following stints in Arizona, Tampa and Chicago. Peterson could find similar success if he’s able to return to his 2015 form.
With starting running back Latavius Murray hitting free agency, the Raiders are searching for reinforcements in the backfield. Neither DeAndre Washington nor Jalen Richard looked ready for full-time work in their rookie seasons last fall.
The Raiders are focused on extending the contracts of quarterback Derek Carr and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack in the off-season, so their offer to Peterson would be light on short-term money and heavy on incentives. Oakland’s cap constraints make a deal unlikely, but adding Peterson could greatly improve the Raiders’ standing in the AFC West heading into 2017.