Mackey: A few things to consider on notion of trading Adrian Peterson
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Speaking to ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio last week, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman made it abundantly clear he has no interest in trading Adrian Peterson.
"Adrian is not going anywhere," Spielman told Florio, via the Pioneer Press. "We have him under contract. He's the face of our franchise. He is a blue-chip player. And we have a new coaching staff in place, and (the Vikings are) very excited about what's coming ahead for us."
So, the question isn't whether Spielman is telling the truth about his desire to hang onto Peterson. Considering Spielman's track record of using smokescreens and parting ways with key players once they reach or approach the age of 30, it's entirely possible he could be fielding phone calls.
The question is how seriously should the Vikings be pushing for a Peterson trade behind the scenes?
I'll preface this by saying two things:
• Peterson is one of the greatest running backs in NFL history, maybe even the best ever, but he plays in an era where great running backs aren't really able to lead their teams to championships. Since Peterson was drafted in 2007, the Vikings have been Super Bowl contenders once -- in 2009 with Brett Favre at the helm.
• Teams aren't exactly clamoring to give up high draft picks for running backs in today's NFL, which - combined with Peterson's high salary - would make it even more difficult to trade him if you're Spielman. But to justify trading one of the best players in franchise history before he has shown a steep drop in production on the field would require at least a first round pick in my opinion.
With all of that said, here are a few reasons why the Vikings should absolutely kick the tires on potential trade opportunities before Peterson's steep drop-off begins:
Three surgeries in three years
A torn ACL two years ago. Hernia surgery last year. Now groin surgery. The Vikings and Peterson can paint this latest surgery as a minor procedure, but the older players get the more injuries seem to pop up.
Peterson's cap number is $14.4 million next season
Now, this also makes it really hard to trade him, considering the projected cap is likely to be $126 million in 2014 (AP's cap number takes up 10% of that). But if the Vikings were to find a partner - perhaps a playoff-caliber team that feels as if it needs a top running back to take pressure off their quarterback - the Vikings would free up $9.6 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com. Peterson's lofty cap number is top-10 in the NFL in an era where....
Running backs don't have as much value as other positions
The best quarterbacks in the NFL are averaging almost twice as many yards per throw (not per completion, but per throw) as running backs average per run. Quarterbacks also throw the ball twice as often. One could also make a strong case that top pass rushers (like J.J. Watt and Clay Mathews) and top shutdown cornerbacks (like Richard Sherman) are a lot more valuable than top running backs.
Toby Gerhart isn't terrible
Gerhart is set to become a free agent, so his salary will likely increase, but he still won't make nearly as much money as Peterson. Plus, Gerhart is a young 27 due to his lack of usage. When he carries, he's pretty good - 276 carries for 1,300 yards, which averages out to nearly five yards per touch. Plus, he's fairly trustworthy on third downs.
Peterson is 29 years old
Or, at last he will be in a couple months. And according to history, a running back turning 29 is like Cinderella's carriage rolling down Mainstreet at 11:58 p.m.
The following running backs were all regarded as the best in the NFL at one point in their careers, and almost all of them saw a significant drop-off (fewer than 4.0 yards per carry or some other massive decline due to injury, etc.) by age 29 or 30: Terrell Davis (27), Edgerrin James (28), Ladainian Tomlinson (29), Shaun Alexander (29), Earl Campbell (29), Marshall Faulk (29), O.J. Simpson (29) and Eric Dickerson (30).
Emmitt Smith played until he was 35, his workhorse status wore off by age 30 or 31. Walter Payton made it to 32 or 33 as a top back. Barry Sanders retired at 30, but he experienced a significant drop-off from age 29 to 30 (although he was still pretty damn good in his final year, rushing for 1,491 yards).
Peterson's multiple surgeries and bruising style make it even more likely that he will wind up just like most the other great running backs before him - a shell of his former self within two seasons.
Would it be fun to see Peterson win a Super Bowl in purple? Definitely. But let's say, in theory, a team like the Chargers or Cowboys (provided they find cap space) offered up a late first-round pick and a third-rounder. Considering the Vikings are probably, at best, a couple years away from Super Bowl contention (even in today's quick-turnaround NFL), would that be enough?
I'd have to strongly consider it if I were Rick Spielman.
Of course, if the Vikings deem Peterson's cap number isn't hindering their ability to improve the overall roster, and if teams aren't willing to offer a first-round pick, then it probably makes sense to just ride it out.
What would it take for you to trade Peterson?