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Zulgad: No offense, but Adrian Peterson’s exit was just what Vikings needed

Dec 18, 2016; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) carries the ball during the second quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Adrian Peterson is a first-ballot Hall of Fame running back who was capable of dominating games during his prime with the Minnesota Vikings.

No matter how you feel about Peterson, there is no debating that fact.

There also is no debating the fact that one reason the 13-3 Vikings will play the Saints on Sunday in an NFC Divisional playoff game is because they were willing to jettison Peterson last spring. The Saints made the same decision as the Vikings, only in their case it was very easy.

One has to figure that Peterson will watch Sunday’s game wondering what would have happened if he had been able to remain with the Saints this season, or if he had long ago been willing to become a more complete running back for the Vikings.

The 32-year-old lasted only four games with the Saints before being traded to Arizona for a conditional draft pick. Peterson gained 81 yards on 27 rushing attempts and caught only two passes for 4 yards playing on a team that relies on its running backs to catch the ball as much as they do to run it.

That’s why it was so surprising that the Saints decided to sign Peterson to a two-year, $7 million contract in April. That came a month after the Vikings decided not to pick up an $18 million option on Peterson’s contract for 2017.

Peterson was never going to be a fit with the Saints or fit into a backfield that already had Mark Ingram. Peterson became an even worse fit  when the Saints drafted Tennessee running back Alvin Kamara in the third round only a few days after signing the veteran.

There was the obligatory training camp story about how Peterson was becoming a more complete running back in New Orleans but nobody in Minnesota was fooled. We had read – or in some cases, written – that story countless times before. Peterson was going to catch passes, Peterson was going to be better in pass protection. It was nonsense.

Ingram finished the regular season with 1,124 rushing yards on 230 carries and 12 touchdowns and also caught 58 passes for 416 yards and was the target of 71 Drew Brees passes. Kamara gained 728 yards on 120 rushing attempts with eight touchdowns and caught 81 passes (100 targets) for 826 yards and five touchdowns.

Peterson finished with 529 rushing yards on 156 attempts with two touchdowns in 10 games between New Orleans and Arizona and caught 11 passes for 70 yards. Ingram and Kamara both exceeded Peterson’s single-season high for receptions (43 in 2009) by a substantial margin.

You knew Peterson’s time with the Saints was going to be limited when cameras caught him yelling at coach Sean Payton on the sideline during a season-opening loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. Peterson attempted to downplay the incident, but Payton wasn’t about to put up with that from a veteran player when he had two younger and better options.

Seeing Peterson lash out at Payton, provided confirmation to Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer that they had made the right move by saying goodbye to Peterson after 10 seasons in Minnesota.

Peterson is the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher with 11,747 yards; he set the single-game record for rushing yards (296) against San Diego in 2007; and became one of only seven running backs in NFL history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a season when he did it in 2012. Remarkably that came after he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and medial collateral ligament in his left knee late in the 2011 season.

But all of those accomplishments didn’t mean Peterson was going to remain the ideal running back in a league where being able to do several things well is now a requirement.

Peterson led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,485 as recently as the 2015 season, helping lead the Vikings to the NFC North title. But it was clear by that point that moving on from him might by a wise move.

The Vikings were trying to build their offense around a young quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and yet Peterson made his displeasure clear anytime he wasn’t handed the ball enough. Bridgewater was best working out of the shotgun; Peterson was best with his quarterback under center. Guess what adjustments

His issues with fumbling also continued as he lost three of seven during the regular season in 2015. It got worse in the postseason. Blair Walsh always will take the blame for the Vikings’ first-round playoff loss because of his missed field goal, but it was Peterson’s fourth-quarter fumble that led to the drive that resulted in Seattle kicking the go-ahead field goal.

By last season, Peterson simply could no longer stay healthy and, yet, seemed to want to remain in control of how things went for him. It actually made it very easy for the Vikings to say goodbye.

There were some who didn’t like it but, even if you remain a Peterson fan, you have to admit his departure was the best thing to happen to this offense. Dalvin Cook, the Vikings’ second-round pick who was lost early in the season to a torn ACL, is a far more complete running back than Peterson ever was during the course of his career.

The duo of Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon might not get you out of your seat with their moves, but they are far more reliable and complete. And, most importantly, offensive coordinator Pat Shumur can focus on making the most of his personnel, including quarterback Case Keenum, without worrying about a sideline meltdown from an aging and temperamental star.

Call it a welcome subtraction.

  • Cman

    I’ve always been a huge Peterson fan. I wasn’t surprised when they didn’t pick up his option, but was a little frustrated at first when they couldn’t come to terms on a 1 year team friendly deal. Once they signed Murray who I knew was a good receiver out of the backfield, and a good blocker, I was ok. Then they went on to draft Cook, who I knew was a stud coming out of college. It was clear that Peterson was actually holding them back because he was a one dimensional back. He was never a good blocker or receiver, so having those other RB’s meant we could have more options that the opposing teams wouldn’t know what was coming. Long story short, we are better off without Peterson.

    • IrreverentOne

      Nothing says respect more than repetition and you just about repeated everything in the article.

  • Louis

    If the vikes would have got rid of Peterson after his 2008 fumblitis debacle and rolled with Chester Taylor and whoever, they would have best the saints and likely won the super bowl. There would have been no 3 a.p. fumbles in the nc championship game. Never made football sense to keep a one dimensional fumble-er. Should have traded him when he had value. No way he would ever be on a belichick or parcels team as feature back. You can’t win with him, and the Vikings did not.

    • linus

      “There would have been no 3 a.p. fumbles in the nc championship game.” Only one of those fumbles resulted in a turnover, and without Peterson, there would have been no 3 TDs and 122 yards rushing either. Meanwhile, Chester Taylor had clearly declined by 2009, averaging only 3.6 yards per carry.

      • Louis

        Was the receiving and pass blocking Chester was needed for. He was in on 3rd down, converting them. Adrian was the one who would miss his pass blocking assignments getting favre hurt. Adrian just never cared enough to learn the playbook beyond when he was to carry the ball.
        .
        The fumbling in the afc championship proved contagious, 6 total fumbles. Vikings lost by 3. Do you think adrian’s three fumbles resulted in sustained drives for the vikings? Is that how you score? I would gladly trade adrian’s 122 yards for 3 less fumbles and a healthy favre. Remember, trading adrian would have resulted in something in return that year.
        .
        For instance, Vikings trade Adrian for a round 2 selection that year, which they use on L. McCoy, rb. Maybe they get more than that, I don’t know, but the team would have been better then. I just do not get why people are so enamored with a one-dimensional, fumbling, choking, selfish rb.
        .
        Why don’t you look up Viking win/loss percentage with Adrian? What was win percentage in games he missed with injury? Scared?
        .
        Vikings did not win with him, and he cost Vikings a win against saints in nfc championship game. 600 yards offense! 6 fumbles, 3 by your hero.

        • linus

          “Do you think adrian’s three fumbles resulted in sustained drives” Well actually, one of the drives during which he fumbled ended with a Vikings TD, and another ended 6 plays later (and 50 yards further downfield) when Favre threw an interception. Bottom line is that Peterson had one fumble (which was technically credited to Favre) that took away a potential FG or TD just before halftime, but he also scored 3 TDs and rushed for 122 yards, so on balance, his contribution to the game was well on the positive side of the Vikings’ ledger. Meanwhile, Harvin’s fumble set up the Saints on the Vikings 7 for the TD that put them up 28-21. Berrian fumbled at the Saints 10 on the very next drive. 12 men in the huddle. Favre’s second interception. Defensive holding on 3rd and 6 that gave the Saints a first down near midfield in overtime. Those are the biggest reasons the Vikings lost the game.

          • Louis

            We lost by 3. 6 fumbles, 3 by Adrian – only losing one, costing 3 to 7 points-does not make them good plays. Sorry.
            .
            122 yards on a 600 yard day, with 3 fumbles. Vikes could have subtracted him and added someone else that can maybe pick up a blitz and hold onto ball. He contributed nothing special at all.
            .
            Would a q.b. throwing 3 picks be good, if two were fumbled and recovered by us be some great job?
            .
            Yes, 12 men, yes refs jobbed us, yes, harvin and berrian fumbled, too. Yes Favre threw across his body when he could have maybe limped into better fg range, etc.
            .
            What could have been foretold-which I posted after Favre signed, was a.d. fumbling 3 times in nfc championship based on his 2008.
            .
            You fix problems. Adrian was a problem. Fumbles, no effort pass blocking, really poor receiver, bad in post season. (Pressed too much, imo)

          • Markus Mladek

            The sheer ignorance in this post is ridiculous. First of all, Adrian was productive as a receiver with Favre a QB. He didn’t remind anyone of Marshall Faulk as a receiver, but he was productive in 2009 particularly in the screen game. Second, what made the 2009 Vikings Offense so lethal was the play action and threat of the running game. In all of Adrian’s career, Favre was the only QB who could make teams pay for stacking the box by stretching the field outside the numbers and he did it over and over again in 2009. Adrian didn’t fail picking up the blitz in those games because his opportunities to pass protect were limited. Chester Taylor played passing downs. You don’t replace perhaps the most naturally talented runner of the football EVER because of he had one (at the time) season with fumbling problems. He had what, 7 fumbles in all of 2008 and you think the responsible decision as a franchise would be to assume he would fumble nearly half of his previous season’s total in ONE playoff game and trade him? LOL okay man. And finally, without Adrian’s monster game on the ground, Favre would have been exposed to more obvious passing downs and thus more headhunting opportunities for the Saints. Saying he contributed “nothing special” is one of the most idiotic statements I have ever read. Educate yourself before talking football in the future so you can avoid coming off as a complete moron.

          • Louis

            So, you disagree? Got it, lol.

  • Scott Myhre

    Good read Judd ! You are completely right on the Vikings dropping him, I think it should have been done one year earlier. Sometimes the Vikings are too loyal to their players when the opposite is never true. Adrian’s father was upset that the Vikings didn’t make an offer, but I’ll defer to his parenting skills to answer that. Anyway, I have hope for you. Thanks for the great article.

    • Mike Kano

      I would say that Adrian’s father has at least somewhat decent parenting skills. After all, Adrian’s father served a long stretch in prison as a convicted felon. Adrian was able to plea bargain down his felony to a misdemeanor. That’s real progress!

      • Scott Myhre

        Now that’s funny! Thanks for the morning laugh…..

      • IrreverentOne

        It is surprisingly easy to sit on your butt in front of a computer and make statements like the one you just made.

    • cka2nd

      “Sometimes the Vikings are too loyal to their players when the opposite is never true.”

      Bull. Just ask Kevin Williams, Antoine Winfield and Chris Kluwe about the former. As for the latter, I think Jarius Wright has handled his diminished snaps in the prime of his career pretty darn well, overall.

      Zulgad is right about it making sense to let Peterson go when they did. Personally, I think they should have traded both Peterson and Jared Allen after it became clear during the 2010 season that the team had to be rebuilt. Peterson was still young enough then to have gotten the two first round draft picks and then some that other folks have unrealistically fantasized he could have attracted after 2012.

  • linus

    Murray and McKinnon aren’t getting nearly enough respect. Their numbers are down because Cook got all the work at the beginning of the year, but if you extrapolate their numbers from the 12 games after Cook’s injury over a full 16-game season, each of them would have reached 1200. That’s not in the same class as Ingram and Kamara, but it’s still pretty dang good.

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    • cka2nd

      And this offensive line is still very much a work in progress. Berger’s expected retirement will create a huge hole, Easton may be better suited as a back-up, and Hill and Isidora are not the shoo-in starters that a lot of fans have convinced themselves they are. I see free agency and Day 1 of the draft in the future for the guard positions on this OL.

  • Gordon Guffey

    They should have traded him after his 2000+ season for a starting QB ~

  • SM

    Obligatory footnote for the history books? Or maybe the article is to meet the monthly quota. It’s a big “so what” at this point in time.

  • Markus Mladek

    Was it time to move on Judd? Yes it was. Was it the “best thing to happen to this offense” or even worth writing about at this stage? No. The best thing to happen to this offense was Riley Reiff, Pat Elflein, and Mike Remmers. The biggest “addition by subtraction?” TJ Clemmings, who was so bad he could be charged with attempted murder of both Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford.





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