Vikings move on without Peterson
As the Minnesota Vikings prepared to leave Winter Park for Sunday's game at New Orleans, Adrian Peterson's locker looked the way it always has. His helmet hung on the side. There were jerseys on hangers. Shoes were neatly lined up. There were two...
As the Minnesota Vikings prepared to leave Winter Park for Sunday’s game at New Orleans, Adrian Peterson’s locker looked the way it always has.
His helmet hung on the side. There were jerseys on hangers. Shoes were neatly lined up. There were two bottles of a sports drink.
Nevertheless, so much has changed since the star running back last utilized his locker. He was put on the NFL’s exempt list Wednesday following an indictment in Texas the previous week on a charge of child abuse.
The eight-year veteran’s NFL future remains uncertain. The face of the Vikings franchise might have played his last game for the team.
“It seems like it’s going to be a season-long thing, and it’s disappointing,” said fullback Jerome Felton, Peterson’s good friend and perhaps soon-to-be former backfield mate.
Obviously, much will depend on what could happen at trial, with one likely not to be held until next year. Peterson, 29, has admitted hitting his 4-year-old son with a switch last May but said he was disciplining him and did not mean harm. Photos taken of the boy a week after the incident that show serious injuries have shocked people.
Not only does the Peterson situation affect the Vikings on the field, it could hamper them economically moving forward. The team has been using Peterson in promotional material to help sell pricey suites and private seat licenses (PSLs) for when it moves into a new indoor stadium in downtown Minneapolis in 2016.
“For the Wilfs (ownership group), it’s a horrible situation, but you have to deal with it,” said Mark Malone, an NFL radio analyst and former quarterback in the league. “They say in the league that winning cures everything, so they have to find a way to win without Adrian Peterson to put butts in the seats. The short-term impact, with some of the PSL stuff, we’ll see how it plays out. It’s not a good business model for the Wilf family right now, to sell expensive PSLs for a billion-dollar stadium.”
Malone is an analyst for games on Westwood One and hosts a weekday show on NBC Sports Radio with former Vikings quarterback Donovan McNabb. There’s been plenty of talk on the show in the past week about the Peterson situation.
After first learning about formal allegations against Peterson on Sept. 12, the Vikings announced he would be deactivated for a game two days later against New England, the first home regular-season game in a two-year stay at temporary TCF Bank Stadium. The Vikings were crushed 30-7, gaining a meager 54 yards rushing.
Last Monday, the Vikings announced Peterson had been reactivated. That prompted an outcry, including calls by Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken for Peterson to be benched. Sponsors began to distance themselves from the Vikings, with the Minneapolis-based Radisson hotel chain being the first.
On Wednesday, Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf admitted the team “made a mistake.’ Peterson, earning a fully guaranteed $11.75 million this season, was sent away from the team with pay.
Now, the Vikings must take the field Sunday at New Orleans and for games beyond. It remains to be seen how severely the loss of Peterson will affect them football-wise and from an emotional standpoint.
“You’ve got to deal with three levels,” said NFL Network analyst Brian Billick, a former Vikings assistant and NFL head coach who won a Super Bowl with Baltimore after the 2000 season. “There’s the personal relationship with the player and his family, and then you have to deal with a team’s obligation to society. ... Then there’s the game (today). It sounds like they’re mercenaries, but no matter what happens they’re going to kick it off (Sunday).”
Replacing Peterson is Matt Asiata, a third-year man who filled in admirably when the star was out last December. He scored three touchdowns, though he gained just 51 yards on 30 carries in a 48-30 win over playoff-bound Philadelphia. He carried 14 times for 115 yards in a 14-3 win over Detroit.
It remains to be seen if Asiata, who rushed 13 times for 36 yards and caught five passes for 48 yards against the Patriots, can be a long-term answer at running back. After Asiata, the Vikings have rookie Jerick McKinnon and Joe Banyard, who have a combined total of 8 career yards rushing.
“We obviously don’t know what the whole situation is with that,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who won’t acknowledge the possibility Peterson could be out for a long period “But every week we look at who’s healthy, who’s got a chance to play, who has a chance not to play, and then we figure out where we can use those guys.”
Zimmer, 58, is in his first year as a head coach. With 20 years of previous NFL coaching experience, both Billick and another notable former coach, Jon Gruden, believe Zimmer can get the Vikings through this Peterson mess.
“Mike Zimmer is as tough of a guy as I’ve ever met.” said Gruden, an ESPN analyst who won a Super Bowl with Tampa Bay after the 2002 season, “He’ll be fine. Adversity strikes in the NFL. My first year as an NFL coach with Oakland (in 1998), our second-round pick Leon Bender died (of a seizure). That’s a lot more serious.
“If something happens, you don’t just say, ‘Oh no, we’re going to lose every game.’ Jiminy Christmas. Maybe it will bring (the Vikings) closer together. Maybe it will raise their level of play.”
It didn’t against the Patriots, when quarterback Matt Cassel tied his career high with four interceptions and the Vikings had a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown. Still, cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is talking about how an us-against-the-world mentality could benefit the Vikings.
“Nobody is giving us a chance right now,” Munnerlyn said. “They’re saying, ‘They’re missing Adrian Peterson and they got all these distractions.’ So we’ll definitely use it as motivation to go out here and do some things that we want to do and that’s to win football games.”
The Vikings might need to win to overcome momentum the Peterson situation could cost them as they prepare to move into a new stadium. The Vikings have been able to bank on having Peterson under contract through 2017, which is the season Minnesota will play host to the Super Bowl.
None of the last three years of Peterson’s contract are guaranteed, starting with $12.75 million on the books next year. Peterson turns 30 in 2015, an age many running backs show a sharp decline.
There already had been speculation Minnesota might part ways with Peterson after this season even before the allegations against him surfaced. Now, the Vikings are going to need plenty of marketing meetings regarding the possibility they might not have Peterson to pitch for the new stadium.
“The Vikings have hit a snag,” said John Wendt, a professor of sports law and sports management at St. Thomas University. “When you look at some of the suites (for sale in the new stadium), one of the big things that major purchasers want to align themselves is with superstars. It’s like you’re with the in crowd. Now, all of a sudden, you’re looking (at the charge against Peterson).
“This was going to be a rebuilding year for the Vikings. When you’re moving into a new stadium, what you’re doing is buying some time for your fan base. You’re saying to your fan base, ‘Hang in there with us. And we still have Adrian Peterson, the most valuable player in the league (in 2012).’ That’s a bridge to get you over that next year or two, but now they might have lost that bridge.”
For now, the Vikings are just trying to get through this weekend. Then, the wait will continue to see if there might be any activity at Peterson’s locker before the end of the season.