If you follow Adrian Peterson on Twitter, you are well aware of his intentions to play in the NFL this season.
He hasn’t been shy about tweeting workout videos or retweeting radio interviews in which the pull quote is, “wherever I go, they won’t regret it.”
But with Peterson still unsigned and only a few weeks to go before training camps open around the league, it’s starting to look more and more like he will be jobless at the unofficial start of the season.
Peterson is far too far removed from the good old days to make a good case for himself. Last year the Saints tried to bring him on as a role player. Despite an offseason of teammates telling the media they were wowed by him, All Day’s time in New Orleans was short. He was traded to Arizona after four games and just 27 carries.
With the Cardinals, he found a flicker of success, rushing for 134 yards on 26 carries to start his career in the Southwest. After his explosion against Tampa Bay in Week 6, Peterson gained just 314 yards on 103 carries and caught nine passes on 16 targets for 66 yards.
Since leading the league in rushing yards in 2015, he’s rushed for 601 yards on 193 rushes with three teams.
It would be a stunning feat for him to convince another team to buy in. Age is Krpyonite, even for invincible athletes.
So if this is it, how will Peterson be remembered in the context of the NFL and of the Minnesota Vikings?
When the Vikings made it official that they were moving on from Peterson in March 2017, general manager Rick Spielman put the team’s 2007 first-round pick in the category of the best players in the franchise’s existence.
“Adrian is probably going to go down as one of the greatest Minnesota Vikings in team history,” he said. “He’ll always be a Viking, I know, to the fans and the people in this building. And he will always have a special place in this franchise and we are very fortunate that we were able to have Adrian Peterson spend most of his career as a Minnesota Viking.”
There’s a fascinating dichotomy about Peterson’s time in Minnesota. On one hand, the Vikings’ future Hall of Fame running back ran away with the title of the team’s best running back. The next best runner Robert Smith has nearly 5,000 less yards on the ground. Two players — Chuck Foreman and Bill Brown — are tied for second place behind AP in rushing touchdowns with 52, Peterson has 97 TDs. He’s pretty far ahead of Foreman in Football Reference’s Approximate Value with 104, compared to Foreman’s 90. And he’s No. 1 in yards per carry despite some down years in that category recently.
Aside from two years with Brett Favre, the Vikings’ running back was the face of its franchise. What luck for the club to have another superhuman megastar to follow Randy Moss’s incredible career. But the other side of the coin is that the Vikings simply didn’t win with Peterson as their centerpiece.
Without Favre, they won zero playoff games. He fumbled twice in the Vikings’ famous loss to New Orleans in ’09 and once in the near-win against Seattle in 2015. Overall in the postseason, Peterson averaged 10 yards less per game in the playoffs than regular season and 1.3 yards less per carry. His lone playoff game over 100 yards was the Saints loss.
Not to mention that in five playoff games, he managed just six catches on 10 targets for 54 yards.
It’s hard to form one player’s legacy based on team wins. It’s not Peterson’s fault that his career opened in a year in which Tarvaris Jackson, Kelly Holcomb and Brooks Bollinger all played quarterback. It isn’t his fault the team drafted Christian Ponder. It isn’t his fault Favre threw across his body or that Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard kick. He also didn’t play any role on the 2013 defense, which finished 32nd in the NFL.
But it’s also hard to ignore that the greatest times of Peterson’s career were often forgettable for his organization.
And it’s also hard not to wonder if his totals were pumped up by a lack of a passing game and whether his team’s passing game would have been better if the quarterbacks had a running back who was willing to block or was dangerous in the passing game.
Through the eyes of Vikings fans, there always seems to be a prevailing “yeah, but…” to Peterson’s legacy that’s hard to shake.
The national lens sees Peterson more favorably. It focuses more on his individual accomplishments, like breaking the single-game record for rushing, averaging 6.0 yards per carry or likely being the last ever to run for 2,000-plus yards.
If AP never plays again, he’ll finish his career 12th all-time in rushing, just a shade behind Marshall Faulk and Jim Brown and just ahead of Edgerrin James. He’s fourth in rushing yards per game and averaged more yards per carry than Terrell Davis, who went into the Hall of Fame based on an incredible — but short – run in the NFL.
Gil Brandt, who was a long-time executive for the Dallas Cowboys and now contributes to NFL Network and NFL.com, ranked Peterson as the 14th best running back in league history.
For both Vikings fans and outside observers, the highlight reels will live on. Peterson had 15 touchdown runs that went for over 50 yards and 21 that went more than 30 yards. That’s only one fewer from 50-plus than Barry Sanders. And he did them with a power/grace combination that was virtually unmatched in history.
In the long run, the child abuse case that resulted in his suspension in 2014 will be overlooked outside of the Twin Cities, but there are many in town that will have a difficult time talking about him with admiration. That’s fair.
It’s also debatable whether he was a selfish player. He worked tirelessly to succeed, but was the type to demand more touches. But when Favre was under center — the team’s most successful season of AP’s career — Peterson simply played his role. Maybe if they had been more competitive and had better quarterbacks, he would have been less demanding.
If AP is done, he will go out as one of the few players whose jersey will be worn by fans 20 years from now. He will get a gold jacket in his first year eligible. He will be in the ring of honor and give a speech at the US Bank Stadium 50 yard line.
His highlight-reel runs will be remembered and missed, and his drama will be remembered and not missed. But for the most part, the Vikings’ success last year and expectations for this season had fans moving on pretty quickly, as they always do.