Plenty of chatter has arisen in recent days regarding the question of whether the Vikings ever would trade running back Adrian Peterson.
From the standpoint of constructing a balanced team at a time when the salary cap is only creeping up each year, the possibility of unloading annual eight-figure cap numbers has some basic appeal. At $11.25 million this year, $11.75 million in 2014, $12.75 million in 2015, $14.75 million in 2016, and $16.75 million in 2017, that’s a huge commitment to a man who is approaching the witching hour for running backs — his 30th birthday.
With a modest cap charge in the short term (only $2.4 million tied to 2014 and $2.4 million for 2015), dumping the contract would create a major cap benefit.
But any trade, nearly a quarter century after the Herschel Walker deal, would yield peanuts in comparison to the package the Vikings sent to Dallas on October 12, 1989. Besides, any team acquiring Peterson would need the cap space to absorb a contract that pays Peterson like a franchise quarterback — and the willingness to pay that much money to a (gracefully) aging tailback. Also, Vikings fans wouldn’t be happy about losing one of the most beloved figures in Minnesota sports history.
So even if it would make good football sense to at some point in the next few years sell Peterson high before his skills drop, the Vikings can’t afford to even entertain the idea of getting rid of one of the best players the team has ever had. (Then again, Fran Tarkenton once was traded. As was Randy Moss.)
Lost in the emerging debate, which isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds at first blush, is one key factor. What if Peterson decides he wants out?
The Josh Freeman test drive primarily will help the Vikings determine whether they’ve found a potential franchise quarterback. If it doesn’t work out — if Minnesota can’t finally develop a passing game to balance the best running back since Barry Sanders — it’s not inconceivable that Peterson would discreetly launch an internal campaign to get the same thing Tony Gonzalez once got from the Chiefs: a trade to a contender.
Peterson has been to the playoffs only twice during a career that demands more January games. If the Vikings continue to fail in their effort to develop a passing game, who could blame Adrian for wanting to go to a place where he can win?