I still remember where I was when I first caught wind of the marks Adrian Peterson put on his child. It was Friday, the last day of an awful week for the National Football League. A night after the Baltimore Ravens and their Ray Rice-loving fan base was showcased on CBS’s Thursday Night Football, the thought was that the worst was behind us. With all respect due Rice as a pretty good football player, he is not and never was the superstar that Peterson was. With Peterson in this mess, sweeping off-field violence under the rug ceased to be an option for Roger Goodell. Since that Friday afternoon, neither Rice nor Peterson has played a down in the NFL, but that’s likely to change in 2015.
Rice, like some other also-rans in the league, was released and suspeneded indefinitely by the league because video surfaced of him striking his girlfriend in an Atlantic City elevator. He was later reinstated, but did not sign with anyone, an inaction you can almost probably attribute more to lack of interest in his football abilities, going forward, more than anything else. He’s clearly not the story, when you look ahead to 2015, not when compared to an all-time great like Peterson. Technically, Adrian Peterson remains a Minnesota Viking, though it’s fair to say, that’s subject to change before training camp.
For the next three seasons, through 2017, Minnesota controls Mr. All-Day, but none of the money is guaranteed. If he wasn’t Adrian Peterson, Vikings owner Mark Wilf would send the troubled star packing, no questions asked. However, there’s at least a conversation to be had, whether he’s the greatest Viking of all-time, though the floor would certainly listen to arguments for Fran Tarkenton and a few other names a die-hard Viking fan might throw out there. On March 21st, he’ll be 30 years old, and for many, that’s when you have to do the sniff test on NFL running backs, to determine if they’re expried or not. Again, with anyone else, that might be enough to cut bait, as if the wounds on his 4 year-old child weren’t enough, but we are talking about Adrian Peterson.
I know we went over all of this last fall, but in the context of the NFL sweeping its problems under the rug, it’s probably worth re-visiting exactly why Peterson wasn’t on the field for 15 of the Vikings’ 16 contests in 2014. On that Thursday, the infamous date of September 11th, a Montomery County (TX) grand jury indicted him on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Again, the is a 4 year-old we’re talking about, and pictures revealed welts and open wounds on the boy’s back, rear end, legs, ankles and other unmentionables. Our world class athlete used a tree branch to show his pre-schooler who the boss was.
The former Oklahoma running back swore he never intended to harm his son in such a way. Let’s keep in mind, it wasn’t that long ago that Peterson’s biological son was buried after the child’s mother’s boyfriend beat the 2 year-old to death. For most, that would put things in perspective, and not to kick Peterson while he’s down, but many believe that he was far too apathetic about losing his flesh and blood, though he learned of the young man’s existence and that flesh and blood connection just days before the child died. For what it’s worth, I am inclined to believe Peterson’s claim about not wanting to harm his son. The problem is, he did.
Child discipline gone too far, that’s often the claim when it comes to abuse. Though I don’t have children of my own, many who do have asserted that children that age can be a pain in the ass. I’m sure I was that same pain in the ass at that age, and what’s a parent to do when acceptable corporal punishment (if you can believe there is such a thing) meets resistance? If you’re attempting to strike a child in a safe place and they move, you could miss and strike an unsafe area. I honestly buy that, but that buys you the benefit of the doubt on one wound. After that, well, every mark you leave and each inkling of pain you cause a defenseless child is simply a road map to grand juries, public outrage, and Commissioner’s Exempt lists.
How he ended up on that list, that’s something of a focal point, at least from Peterson’s camp. Did Kevin Warren conspire with the NFL to make sure he landed there? Warren is the team’s Vice President of Legal Affairs, and at the time, an exemption was a better alternative than suspension for Peterson’s bankroll. He was initially deactivated for one game, and if this sound familiar, it might be because Goodell only suspended Rice for two games before the public outrage forced his hand into something indefinite (which was justice, but admittedly unfair to Rice). An arbitrator later ruled in the league’s favor to keep Peterson on the Exempt List for the entire season, rendering his 2014 season over.
Now, for avoiding the PR nightmare that would have ensued, had the Vikings and the NFL let this child abuser on the field in Week 3, just days after envoking their new Domestic Violence policy, there is tension between the Vikings and Peterson, at least from where Peterson sits. The Vikings want him back, despite the criminal activity and despite his upcoming 30th birthday, but the running back’s camp is trying to leverage a trade. The problem is, the Vikings hold all of the leverage cards.
We’re going to hear about the Cowboys and it makes sense, DeMarco Murray’s future in Dallas is far from stable and the Cowboys are much closer to the finish line than Minnesota promises to be for the remainder of Peterson’s prime. It would also be a return home to Texas, but he does himself few favors forcing Minnesota’s hand here, as it is up to them to get the right value to trade him, when they could simply ask him to report to camp and play out his contract. And how dare he create problems with the team, when they “have been staunchly loyal to Peterson, probably to a fault,” according to Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press in Minnesota.
They deactivated him for one game after the allegations surfaced but briefly attempted to bring him back the following week, despite the fact that the populace was ready to torch Winter Park. After formal charges were filed, they got him on the commissioner’s exempt list so he could continue to get paid his full salary for doing nothing.
While he was gone, they didn’t badmouth him. They never wavered publicly in their support for him and, often referred to his stellar character — a hard sell at the time.
And they always said they wanted him back. What else were they supposed to do, issue a statement saying that Peterson’s 4-year-old son got what he deserved?
The real question is, does anyone (aside from the Cowboys) want the headache? The shelf-life thing may not pinpoint to a running back’s 30th birthday, but it is real. We’ve seen it too many times to deny the precedent, is Adrian Peterson the exception to the rule? My take: if anyone can defy garden-variety limitations a human being is supposed to encounter, it’s him. So, once you’ve established that the 30 year-old Adrian Peterson is worth the while from a football standpoint, you have to really evaluate if you can handle him in the locker room? In Minnesota, those familiar with him might forgive the actions that put him in Texas courtrooms, but he’s clearly ready for a change of scenery, and if he’s in a new locker room, it will be a direct result of the damage he inflicted on the body of a 4 year-old. He’d be around men who probably don’t know him, men with young children, and men who won’t forgive what he did to that defenseless boy.
Sure, he can help the Jets, Dolphins, Ravens, Colts, Chargers, and some NFC teams the Vikings would see on a regular basis, but what would those teams be willing to part with, especially considering his future with his current employer is not tenable? He doesn’t have another 2000 yard season in him, and with the Vikings, he’s due almost $13 million in 2015 alone. Who wants to shell out that type of cash on a gamble. The gamble doesn’t seem to reside with Peterson staying out of trouble with the law, but maybe it does. If he’s upset with anyone other than himself through this entire ordeal, which took nearly a full season from a potentially record-shattering career, maybe he’s learned nothing at all. And as older players go, is he the one you want mentoring your younger players?
It’s possible he’s immune to all of this inside the cloak of Jerry Jones or whichever owner ponies up the ransom Wilf and GM Rick Spielman are going to demand to give Peterson his way, and really, it might work out. However, logic would dictate Peterson and his agent take a step back and realize just how healthy remaining in cold Minnesota might be for Peterson on the whole.