Zulgad: It's now time for the Vikings to shut down Adrian Peterson
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The Minnesota Vikings had three games remaining in a lost 2010 season when the organization made the decision that Adrian Peterson would sit out against Chicago because of lingering ankle and knee issues.
The Vikings, who were 5-8 at the time, made the call partly based on the fact that that Monday night game had to be played outside on the icy and snowy field at TCF Bank Stadium because the Metrodome roof had collapsed a week earlier.
You could not blame the Vikings for wanting to protect their star running back.
Three years later, the Vikings' decision-making had changed a bit. Despite sitting at 3-8-1, with the very capable Toby Gerhart still its backup running back, the team decided that Peterson would play on a snowy Sunday in Baltimore.
Whether using Peterson was a wise choice, could have been open for discussion based on the fact that he has been battling a groin injury in recent weeks and was listed as questionable on the Friday injury report.
The case for playing Peterson was twofold.
One, Peterson had carried the ball a season-high 35 times for 211 yards the previous week in a victory over Chicago, although that game was played indoors. Two, Peterson was sure to fight any decision that would have kept from the field.
But early in the second quarter on Sunday, Peterson caught a third-down pass from Matt Cassel and was tackled by Baltimore's Arthur Brown as he tried to stretch for the first down. As he went to the ground, Peterson began rolling in pain and it was clear something was wrong with his ankle or foot.
The diagnosis was that Peterson had suffered a sprained right foot and was due to have an MRI on Monday. Coach Leslie Frazier did not have an update on the MRI during his press conference at Winter Park, but Peterson informed reporters the MRI "came back great."
The plan was for Peterson to see a foot specialist on Monday and undergo a CT scan to make sure the bone is all right. Fortunately, the dreaded Lisfranc injury has been ruled out and, no surprise, Peterson already is hoping to play Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles at the Metrodome.
This is admirable and not surprising.
It's also silly.
Peterson will balk but, at this point, the Vikings' decision is an easy one. It's time to shut down Peterson and have him start focusing on 2014.
Yes, Peterson is only 84 yards behind the Eagles' LeSean McCoy for the NFL rushing lead but in the big picture that should not factor into any reasonable thinking.
Gerhart suffered a strained hamstring near the end of Sunday's game and is day-to-day. If Gerhart is healthy, he should be the primary running back against the Eagles. Make no mistake, the next three games will be Gerhart's last as a Viking.
He will be an unrestricted free agent after this season and there is no way he will return as Peterson's backup. He ran for 91 yards two weeks ago in Green Bay and 89 on Sunday at Baltimore, including a 41-yard touchdown run.
Gerhart is going to be a well-paid starting running back somewhere else in 2014 and if the Vikings can help him improve his stock, they should do it. He has been a loyal, and for obvious reasons, underused employee in his four years with the Vikings. It also benefits Minnesota to improve his stock, because they could potentially receive better compensation in the 2015 draft for losing the free agent.
Peterson was upset when the Vikings had him open training camp in 2012 on the physically-unable-to-perform list, despite the fact he was coming off surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee.
In that case, the Vikings informed Peterson he was on their schedule and that he would have to be patient. They are almost certainly going to get resistance from Peterson again if they attempt to hold him out but it will be worth it.
Peterson, who rushed for an incredible 2,097 yards in 2012, will turn 29 years old in March and is getting near the dangerous age of 30 for a running back. There are a lot of miles on these tires and there's no reason to add more at this point.
The Vikings also are now officially out of the playoffs, so there's no case to be made that this is important for the team. Everyone knows Peterson wants to play and is not a "me first" guy. He doesn't need to prove that.
Peterson also will enter next season with four years left on the seven-year, $96 million deal he signed in September 2011. That contract includes $36 million in guarantees.
The Vikings want to see that investment continue to pay off and that means, no matter how much the player might object, the team must do what's best for the long term.
In this case, that's having Peterson watch the final three games.