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Updated: January 20th, 2014 6:13pm
Zulgad: Vikings shouldn't allow Peterson to lobby for playing time

Zulgad: Vikings shouldn't allow Peterson to lobby for playing time

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Vikings were 3-8-1 and in the midst of completing a lost 2013 season when Adrian Peterson caught a third-down pass from Matt Cassel early in the second quarter on Dec. 8 in Baltimore.

Playing on a snowy field, Peterson was tackled by the Ravens' Arthur Brown and fumbled the ball out of bounds as he attempted to stretch for a first down.

What happened next sent a scare through anyone who works for the Vikings or follows the team. Nearly two years after he tore up his knee in a meaningless game at Washington, Peterson remained on the ground grabbing at his right foot in obvious pain.

Peterson was eventually taken to the locker room on a cart. The diagnosis turned out to be a sprained foot. In two ways this was a massive break for the Vikings, and we mean that in a good way.

One, the injury wasn't nearly as bad as it first looked. Two, it gave the Vikings exactly what they needed. That was the ability to tell Peterson they appreciated his services for the season, but that he had carried the football for the last time in 2013.

That was the contention from this corner the moment the injury happened. Peterson had been battling a groin issue since at least mid-November and the foot and groin problems combined made it a no-brainer to shut him down.

The only problem was the Vikings allowed the ultra-competitive Peterson to express his desire to continue playing and his disgust the next week against Philadelphia when he was held out.

Peterson ended up getting 11 carries, including 10 in the first half, of the Vikings' 42-14 loss on Dec. 22 in Cincinnati. He clearly was not close to 100 percent and gained only 45 yards.

The following week, in the season finale, Peterson again sat.

This weekend our old pal, Tom Pelissero of USA Today, broke the story that Peterson's groin injury continues to bother him and he is now scheduled to visit Dr. William Meyers, a Philadelphia-based specialist, to decide whether surgery is needed.

Did playing against the Bengals make it worse?

That's almost not the point, although having him on the field that day was a bad idea.

The point is that when you are as valuable of an asset as Peterson is to the Vikings, it shouldn't matter if you want to play. What should always prevail is common sense and what's best for the long term.

The Green Bay Packers were extremely cautious with Aaron Rodgers because of his broken collarbone. Yes, it's easier to tell if a bone is healing than it is if a groin injury is getting better, but a decision by the Vikings to end Peterson's season shouldn't have been tough at all.

Their season already was over.

Peterson was in the race for the rushing title and he's never going to miss a game if you give him that choice, but that shouldn't have mattered to anyone at Winter Park.

Do you think Rodgers or Packers coach Mike McCarthy were thrilled by the fact that one of the NFL's top quarterbacks couldn't play week after week? Of course, they weren't. But the Packers were able to be cautious by putting the decision entirely on the doctors.

Guess what? Media isn't allowed to speak to the team doctor. That person never talks unless the club decides to make him or her available. All the Vikings had to do was say, "Peterson is done for the season, doctor's orders," and that would have been that.

So why shouldn't Peterson have a say in this?

Simple.

It's the Vikings who have the most to lose if and when Peterson begins to slow. He signed a seven-year, $96 million contract in September 2011 that contained $36 million in guarantees.

Peterson will turn 29 in March and will be entering his eighth NFL season in 2014. The magic age, and we don't mean that in a good way, for running backs in this league is 30.

Now let's talk about wear and tear.

Peterson underwent surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee late in 2011. Following his incredible performance in 2012, Peterson had the second-best, single-season rushing mark in NFL history with 2,097 yards, he underwent sports hernia surgery.

And now it might be surgery on his groin. It's not that this procedure would jeopardize Peterson's 2014 season, but it is the fact all of these surgeries are going to begin to add up.

So the next time a hobbled Peterson insists he can play through the latest issue, the Vikings would be wise to thank him for his competitive spirit but tell him any decisions will be made by the organization.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Matt Cassel, Adrian Peterson
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