At a time when the clocking could be ticking on running back Adrian Peterson’s willingness to stay in Minnesota absent a competent passing game, the clock may be ticking on the Vikings’ willingness to keep him around.
The Vikings would never put it that way. Peterson means too much to the team, especially as it embarks on a two-year detour to an open-air college venue. Peterson’s star power will help sell tickets at a time when fans could be inclined to take a break pending the opening of the team’s new stadium — or the unexpected development of a Super Bowl contender.
But how much longer can the Vikings afford to pay eight figures to a guy who plays a position with a value that has been plummeting? Peterson will receive a base salary of $11.75 million in 2014. Next year, it moves to $12.75 million. Then, it climbs to $14.75 million. By 2017, Peterson will make $15.75 million.
As the price tag goes up each year, the Vikings seem to be planning a reduction in Peterson’s workload.
“He’s getting to the point where you don’t have to give him the ball 50 times a game for 16 games,” G.M. Rick Spielman recently said, via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “Adrian’s the face of our franchise, but [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] has a history of having two backs to keep him fresh, because I think it’s very important as you go through the season that they’re still strong in Week 16 and they’re still strong when you get into the playoffs.”
That’s fine, but reduced reliance on Peterson translates to reduced value financially. At some point, the Vikings have to restructure the deal in a way that reduces Peterson’s salary and cap number. If he balks, the relationship likely will end. Or perhaps the Vikings will simply decide abruptly to move on, after this season or the next.
It’s a trend that could be here to stay in the NFL, with highly-compensated star players dumped without much warning in any given offseason. Or, as the case may be, in every given offseason.
However it ends for Peterson in Minnesota, it’s starting to feel like the end is coming — and it’s starting to feel like the final portion of the ride could get a little bumpy.