The Lure of Peterson
With Adrian Peterson nearing a return to the NFL, the next question is: Where will he play? The Cowboys and Cardinals are possibilities, but don’t expect either to act desperately. Plus, answering email on Nate Boyer, PATs and Johnny Manziel
On Tuesday, suspended Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson met with commissioner Roger Goodell at the NFL offices in New York for at least 90 minutes. This was the first step on the road to reinstatement for Peterson, though where he plays in 2015 is one of the league’s biggest mysteries right now.
Peterson told Josina Anderson of ESPN before the meeting that he was “anxious to start a new chapter" in his career. There’s no question he wants out of Minnesota. He feels the Vikings weren’t fully supportive of him when the allegations of excessively disciplining his son with a tree branch first surfaced last year. And he also knows—or must know—that if he wants out, now is the best time to make a clean break, with two contenders (Dallas, Arizona) in major need of running back help, and Peterson loving both of those contenders.
I can tell you that neither of those teams, Dallas or Arizona, is going to do something stupid for Peterson. They don’t have to. This draft is too good at running back, and the two teams, as of the close of business Tuesday, are pretty snug up against the cap, considering they still have rookies to sign. Dallas has about $12.8 million available, and Arizona $9.1 million.
Peterson has three years left on his contract, at $12.75 million, $14.75 million and $16.75 million—plus $750,000 in offseason workout bonuses. He turned 30 last month. You can say his legs are fresh and his body well-rested because he sat out almost all of last season while on paid leave by the NFL. That’s fair. But he’s also an ACL surgery veteran who carried the ball 627 times in the two seasons after his knee surgery.
Investing $15 million a year for three years in a 30-year-old running back is problematic enough. But consider what would happen if the Cardinals—picking 24th in the first round and 55th in the second—or Dallas, with the 27th and 60th picks in the first two rounds, seriously considered making a deal for Peterson.
In the NFL, when everyone knows you might have to trade a player, you cannot get fair-market value for him. We’ve seen that time and again. (New England trading a fourth-round pick for Randy Moss eight years ago, for instance, and Moss promptly setting the NFL record for most touchdown catches in a season.) So there is little chance the Vikings could get a first-round pick for Peterson in 2015, or a future conditional first-round pick, even, based on how many carries he has in 2015.
Let’s say the Cards or Cowboys would be willing to part with a second-round pick this year. The value of a low second-round pick this year will be about four years and $3.9 million. Late in the second round, the best back on the board could be Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, Miami’s Duke Johnson or Indiana’s Tevin Coleman.
Peterson has a big edge over each of those backs. He’s done it before, at an MVP level. They haven’t. Let’s compare him to Abdullah, who should get picked sometime in the second round.
Peterson, MVP-caliber back, 30 years old, lots of wear on his body. A team would have to pay Peterson $45 million over the next three years (or something similar after a contract extension), plus surrender a draft choice.
Or the team could stay where it is and use that draft choice on a much cheaper running back. Abdullah, smaller but 21 years old, coming off a 1,611-yard season at Nebraska, with good hands, would be due about $4 million over the next four years.
It’s clear that, today, Peterson is a better player than anyone the Cards or Cowboys could draft. But trading for Peterson under these conditions would be a 2005 Jerry Jones move. In 2014 the Cowboys could have been impetuous and drafted Johnny Manziel. They didn’t. They chose guard Zack Martin, one of the best rookie linemen to come into the NFL in years. Worked out well for them.
It’ll be interesting to see if any team succumbs to the lure of Peterson. Arizona and Dallas are still the leaders in the clubhouse, but I’ve talked to both teams in recent weeks, and I don’t think either will be held hostage for Peterson. If he’s going to get traded, I don’t see it happening under these circumstances. I see Dallas or Arizona—or my upset special, Jacksonville, still awash in cap money—making this deal only if Peterson can make the financials easier on them, and if the Vikings are willing to take a lesser pick for him. For now, I don’t think the Vikings are willing to do that. And so it’s a stalemate.
And now for your email:
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THE KILL QUESTION. Thank you for spreading the word about Nate Boyer, and thank you for bringing attention to veterans and their causes over the years. But in the future, I'd ask that you refrain from asking any veteran if they have killed anyone or how many people they have killed. It often makes us very uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. It is unfortunately a very common question, with deeply personal reflections and ramifications, and in this case, didn't really add to the story. Many veterans struggle with what they did or didn't do during combat, and asking about kill counts is often one of those questions that makes a veteran simply shake his or her head. Thanks, and keep up the good work.
—Jake, Killeen, Texas
I appreciate you writing that. Thank you. I heard from quite a few people about that Monday. In response, let me share a brief story. In 2008 I was on a USO trip with three NFL players to Afghanistan. During the course of the trip, two of the players and I spent one evening with a group of Army Special Forces soldiers. I did ask at least two of them (it might have been more) about what I thought would be the most difficult part of their lives—the act of having to kill other people. And I asked how many they had killed. Neither seemed to be upset by the question or to think that it was the wrong question to ask. So that night I didn’t walk away thinking, that’s the wrong question to ask an active service member. Now, after hearing from quite a few veterans in the wake of that question to Nate Boyer, I realize that many in the service consider it an insulting question. And so I apologize for asking a question that upset quite a few people.
DROPKICK PAT IDEA. Rather than changing the location of the PAT attempt, why not change how the PAT is kicked? Eliminate the holder and make the kicker dropkick the ball. The percentage made would certainly decrease at least in the short term.
—David, Lincolnville, Maine
I’ve heard this suggestion from quite a few people in the last couple of weeks. It strikes me as gimmicky. And I’m really not sure what benefit that would be, because if a dropkick from a short distance was made the rule, it would take only a short amount of time for kickers or punters to learn how to dropkick effectively. After a year, maybe two, I think the dropkick would be 98% successful or some such lock of a number.
MANZIEL'S TRADE VALUE. I’m curious if you think Jerry Jones can or will try for Johnny Manziel now? Think the Cowboys could get him from Cleveland for a fourth-round pick?
—Kris, Renfrew, Ontario
Probably, but in my opinion, Manziel is not worth a fourth-round pick right now. The only way I would pay anything for Manziel now is if he could exhibit some sort of track record over a period of months or a year that showed he truly is a changed person. Until then, any pick shy a sixth or a seventh to me would be too risky.
THE SAN DIEGO-RIVERS ENDGAME. Do you think the Chargers ultimately will accept a Marcus Mariota-for-Philip Rivers trade offer from the Titans as a defensive tactic? The buzz here in Denver is that we may be interested in signing Rivers next season as a free agent once Peyton retires (or is cut). Presumably we’d then have the cap space to do it. I could see San Diego trading Rivers to Tennessee just to ensure they don’t have to face him twice a year as a division rival.
Keep one thing in mind about all of these rumors: The Chargers would have control over Rivers in 2016 simply by putting the franchise tag on him entering free agency. Anyone who thinks Rivers simply will be an unrestricted free agent and free to sign with any team are delusional. So, if you’re asking whether San Diego would trade him just to keep him away from Denver, you have to first understand that Denver would have to pay a huge salary and huge compensation as well for Rivers if the Chargers designated him a franchise player. I’m not saying Rivers won’t be traded, although I sincerely doubt he will be. But I think it’s important to understand that the coach and GM and owner of the Chargers have absolutely no intention of getting rid of Rivers, even though he is not inclined to sign with the future of the franchise so up in the air.
LET THEM CELEBRATE. I was re-watching the end of Super Bowl 49 and one thing bothers me a little. I’m not a Seahawks or Patriots fan, but the celebration penalty after Malcolm Butler intercepts Russell Wilson’s pass seems … a little silly. What was his team supposed to do after such a momentous play? Pat him on the back and jog off to the sideline? The ball was moved from the 2- to the 1-yard line. If the Seahawks had somehow managed to get a safety, get the ball back and somehow score, it would have been a shame if the celebration penalty played a part in it. I think there needs to be a little leeway in a situation like that. Has there been any discussion about this?
I agree with you. A celebration penalty after such a momentous play in NFL history seems wrong. Then again, the officials working the game are not asked to consider the historic nature or magnitude of a play. I’ve heard no discussion about it, and I doubt I will. I just don’t think the NFL wants to give the officials leeway on when it is okay to allow excessive celebration and when it is not.