While he still appears to be in the NFL’s doghouse, his current team, the Minnesota Vikings, seem to be going all out to smooth things over with the star running back. However, even a four-hour in person meeting with head coach Mike Zimmer and GM Rick Spielman didn’t seem to be enough to convince Adrian Peterson to commit his long-term future to the only team he has ever played for. What does the future hold for the former MVP? We take a look.
What is Peterson’s current situation?
Adrian Peterson’s suspension has been overturned by the US Courts, and he is therefore once again a current NFL player, under contract to the Minnesota Vikings. The team is free to trade or cut Peterson, and are also free to attempt to restructure, renegotiate, reduce or extend his contract. However, the NFL intend to appeal this, and therefore, the Commissioner has once again placed Peterson on the Commissioners Exempt list, and while he is once again being paid, he is not able to continue his NFL career quite yet.
What is the Commissioners Exempt list?
The Commissioners Exempt list is a special list of players. Players on this list are under contract, and are subject to all the usual conditions of their contract, including things like routine drug tests. They are not free agents, and remain on the payroll of their current team, in Peterson’s case, the Minnesota Vikings. Players on this list collect their full salary for the duration they are placed on the list.
However, they are not eligible to take part in any team activities during this time. This includes practices, training camp activities, and, of course, game days. They are not considered part of the teams active roster, do not count towards their player limits.
However, although the players do not count towards roster limits, players on the exempt list do still count towards the teams salary cap, so ideally, teams will not want to keep an exempt player under contract indefinitely.
What did the Vikings and Peterson discuss?
No-one knows for sure, however, since this was their first meeting since Peterson was deactivated by the Vikings, and first placed on the exempt list, it was likely primarily used to try to smooth things over with the star.
Peterson also likely made his concerns about returning to the club known—he has certainly been vocal to the media that he has reservations about returning to Minnesota—and what, if anything the team can do to allay those fears.
Finally, there was almost certainly some discussion about his contract, though this would probably only be very provisional sorts of conversations, as there are no reports that his agent was present for the meeting. Peterson has reportedly already handed the team a list of five teams he would rework his contract for, if it helped facilitate a trade, however there has been no sign yet that he would be willing to do the same for his home team. Minnesota, however, will almost certainly want some kind of discount if he is to remain with them, especially if there is a possibility that he will spend a long time on the commissioners exempt list.
What was the outcome of the meeting?
Following the meeting, Peterson released a statement. According to NFL Media Analyst Ian Rapoport, Peterson said the following;
“I appreciate Rick and coach Zimmer coming down to see me today. We had a great dialogue and they were able to understand where I was coming from and concerns my family and I still have. We respect each other and hopefully the situation can pan out so that everyone involved is content.”
It was a very deliberate and measured comment, which stopped well short of giving any indication of what his plans are, and which contained no explicit sign that fans should hold out hope that he will return.
Specifically, it stressed that the Peterson family, Adrian and his wife Ashley, who was present for at least part of the meeting, still had concerns about returning to Minnesota, and seemed to put emphasis on a mutually beneficial outcome, which would tally with previous reports that Peterson would rework his contract to secure a trade.
The Vikings did not have any specific comments, though the team have previously insisted that they want Peterson back, and gave no sign that these plans had changed.
What are the options for the Vikings?
Put simply, they can keep him, cut him, or trade him.
Peterson is under contract for 2015, so in spite of his protestations, the Vikings are under no compulsion to allow him to play for anyone else, they can simply pay him the salary he is due, and he would have no choice but to play for the team or retire. They already paid him for most of 2014 to not play, and not cutting him when he was placed on the exempt list, so clearly, the team are hopeful that he will return to them.
However, his salary is definitely more than the team will likely want to pay for a player with off field issues, coming of a statistically down season in 2013, and missing virtually all of2014. While Peterson hasn’t ruled out returning to the Vikings, he also hasn’t indicated he is willing to give the only team he has ever played for a hometown discount, and if he really feels slighted, he may dig in his heels and refuse to negotiate with the team.
His base salary is $12.5 million for 2015, with a $250k workout bonus, and his cap number is a hefty $15.4 million. The $12.5 million salary is fully guaranteed, so if the team choose to keep him, and the league choose to make an example of him by keeping him on the exempt list indefinitely, keeping him on his current contract represents an expensive gamble for the Vikings. The team would likely avoid paying his $250k workout bonus, if he is still on the commissioners exempt list come training camp, but otherwise, would be on the hook for his entire salary, regardless of whether he ever actually plays.
If cut, Peterson would need to clear waivers, and then would be free to sign with any team. The Vikings would be left with $2.4 million in dead money, but would be free to move on from the situation. If Peterson is truly unwilling to negotiate with the Vikings, or the Minnesota top brass get the feeling that his presence would become a hindrance to the team, this seems like the most likely outcome.
However, Peterson has reportedly indicated that there are five teams he would like to be traded to, and that he would be willing to renegotiate his contract to help facilitate this.
This would be the ideal outcome for the Vikings, in that it allows them to move on from Peterson, while not simply having to walk away empty-handed, though whether any team is willing to actually trade for a player on the exempt list remains to be seen.
What sort of trade could be negotiated?
While initial reports indicated that Peterson hoped to remain in his home state of Texas, playing for the Dallas Cowboys in 2015—which makes a lot of sense, especially if the Cowboys lose DeMarco Murray in free agency—the Cowboys were only one of several teams Peterson is reportedly willing to consider.
Those five teams are (in order of available cap room), the Indianapolis Colts ($43.9 Mill.), Tampa Bay Buccaneers ($34 Mill.), San Diego Chargers ($30.8 Mill.), Arizona Cardinals ($15.1 Mill.), and the Cowboys ($7.22 Mill.) Conceivably, four of those five teams could take Peterson as is, and the Cowboys would almost certainly be able to create the extra space to add a player of Peterson’s caliber, but it’s hard to imagine any of them being any more likely to pay his current salary than the Vikings are.
Peterson says he is willing to restructure his contract to make it more cap friendly, but a restructured contract is very different to a reduced one. When players speak of restructuring their contracts, they usually mean converting base salary into bonuses, which can be pro-rated across the duration of the salary, but this just causes more issues for teams down the line.
Teams would likely want a significantly reworked salary, with a lower overall yearly paycheck, and a much smaller amount of guaranteed money each year. They would likely want to add a personal conduct clause, giving them a “get out of jail free” card if Peterson spends any more time on the exempt list, and would almost certainly want to make significant portions of any salary they pay him performance based bonuses. There is no indication that Peterson will be willing to make cuts anywhere near that deep.
Furthermore, there is the matter of how much teams would be willing to give up to the Vikings, especially if the team feel that he is likely to be cut. Sources inside the Vikings have indicated that they feel a player like Peterson is worth a starting player, and an early draft pick, but as the LeSean McCoy trade showed, teams simply do not value running backs as highly as they once did.
Realistically, I can see a number of those teams, including the Cardinals, Colts and Cowboys offering either a young prospect player/over the hill veteran with a few more years left in the tank, or an early round pick to the Vikings for Peterson, but not both. Perhaps, these teams may be willing to add a conditional pick if Peterson performs as planned, but even this would be a stretch.
Of those, I see the Cardinals as the best overall landing spot for Peterson—they are immediate Super Bowl contenders, with enough cap room to offer him a fair salary, and a culture of helping troubled stars, like Tyrann Mathieu, rebuild their reputation.
However, again, a trade can only ever happen if both teams have something that the other wants, and there is simply no guarantee that the Vikings would be willing to accept this kind of offer.
Could Peterson still be suspended again?
Yes, but we doubt he will be.
The league have indicated that they plan to appeal the court’s decision to overturn his suspension, which, if successful would mean that Peterson would once again be placed on the NFL suspension list. However, it is important to remember that such an appeal would be another fairly long process.
The NFL had previously indicated that if Peterson complied with the terms of his sentence, which by all accounts he has done, he would be eligible for reinstatement from April. Even if the court found that Peterson’s suspension should not have been overturned, they will also likely rule that he should be reinstated in April anyway, for complying with the terms of his probation.
We doubt that the appeal will be concluded by this time anyway, so in all likelihood, this is all bluster and saber-rattling from the commissioner’s office, to justify placing him back on the exempt list. It does, however, impact any potential trades until the suspension is finally, and definitively, overturned.
In any case, this means, at least for the time being, Peterson’s future remains on hold.
Could the NFL keep him on the Commissioners Exempt list indefinitely, even if he is not suspended?
Theoretically, yes, but in practice, it seems very unlikely.
At least in theory, players only come off the exempt list when the commissioner decides that they can. All NFL players agree to this as part of their contract, so, technically, even if the court of appeals agrees that the suspension should not be reinstated, the commissioner could choose to continue to make an example of Peterson, by leaving him on the exempt list.
But in practice, it would be a terrible idea for the league. As long as Peterson is being paid, he would likely not have too much legal recourse, but the moment the Vikings cut him, which would almost certainly happen if Peterson is still on the exempt list once his 2015 salary is due to be paid, Peterson would have a strong legal case against the league for loss of earnings.
He would argue that it is a de-facto suspension, which the court overturned, and he is being deprived of his income. Even if the league feel they stand a chance of winning the case, it is just too much bad press that they do not need right now. It’d represent another blow to Roger Goodell’s image that he simply cannot afford right now. If the league’s appeal is unsuccessful, they would have no choice but to remove Peterson from the exempt list, and allow him to return to work, either for the Vikings, or another team.