Pelissero: Scheme uncertain, Frazier pledges allegiance to Peterson
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Leslie Frazier wouldn't talk about his interview with Josh McDaniels. He wouldn't say much about his plans for the Minnesota Vikings' offense.
The one question Frazier would answer definitively during a brief conversation this past weekend was about his All-Pro halfback -- and he left no doubt prospective offensive coordinators are being told precisely where their attack must begin.
"I wouldn't want to get away from Adrian Peterson no matter what we do," Frazier said. "He's the focal point. So, any conversation I would have with anybody about our offense -- it would be clear to them that it starts with Adrian Peterson and everything else kind of evolves off of that. Whoever is calling those plays next fall, they would understand."
Take that as a sign of commitment to one of the NFL's most dangerous weapons. Or take it as a public pacifier to a player who surely is wondering about the impact of schematic changes, a new quarterback and the likely exodus of every coach relevant to his position.
After all, nothing outside of finding a franchise quarterback ranks higher on the Vikings' priority list this offseason than re-signing Peterson, who seems unlikely to set foot on the field again without a contract extension that would make him one of the highest-paid runners ever.
No one has rushed for more yards than Peterson's 5,782 since he entered the league in 2007. No one's even close -- Kansas City's Thomas Jones ranks second with 4,729.
Still only 25 years old, Peterson has done all that damage in the same system, with a ground game predicated on zone blocking and instinctive, one-cut running. But Frazier's apparent top choice for offensive coordinator earned his reputation by directing a pass-first, shotgun-heavy variation of the spread in New England.
That's not to say McDaniels -- a highly regarded offensive mind linked to potential openings in St. Louis, Atlanta, Miami and Kansas City as well -- couldn't operate the sort of system Frazier wants. It's just that history suggests McDaniels will try to land somewhere he has latitude to run his scheme and, preferably, the quarterback to do it.
Mike Shanahan and Alex Gibbs popularized the zone-blocking scheme in Denver by churning out one 1,000-yard rusher after another, ranking among the NFL's top five in rushing nine times in Shanahan's 12 seasons. McDaniels largely scrapped that scheme when he replaced Shanahan as coach in January 2009, and the Broncos plummeted to 18th and 26th in rushing, respectively, over two seasons before McDaniels was fired last month.
Granted, Denver doesn't have a back anywhere close to Peterson's caliber. The Patriots ranked sixth in rushing in 2008, the last of McDaniels' three full seasons calling the plays. And Frazier is doing what he can to counter any preconceived notions about the changes he's looking to make with his first staff, saying that "the point of it is that we're working towards winning a championship with every decision."
That doesn't change the fact that Peterson would have one more piece of uncertainty to discourage him from risking his value by playing out the final year of his rookie contract.
Though his scheduled base salary for 2011 is a team-high $10.72 million, deals signed in recent years by other top running backs suggest Peterson and his agent, Ben Dogra, could be looking for upwards of $25 million guaranteed.
Sitting out the offseason and potentially into training camp would Peterson in a perilous position when it comes to learning any scheme. But the last thing Peterson would want to do is show up without a long-term contract, see his production plummet in a new scheme -- or worse, get injured -- and lose millions.
Either way, the Vikings are facing the likelihood of a tense summer with the player scouts refer to as the Vikings' "bell cow," at a time the franchise also has to find a quarterback and sort of the futures of receiver Sidney Rice, linebacker Chad Greenway and 16 other potential free agents.
Keeping intact Darrell Bevell's version of the West Coast offense seems less likely by the day, though. And for now, Frazier can't offer more than lip service to appease one player who might have the most concern about the change -- even if it's the one player Frazier wants the offense to revolve around.