The rumour mill has not stopped spinning about Adrian Peterson since the players suspension was officially overturned. One name which keeps coming up is the Arizona Cardinals, and multiple reports now indicate that the Cardinals have a roadmap in place to sign the disgruntled star. We take a look at what needs to happen to get the deal done.
Step 1: Vikings need to be willing to trade Peterson—Done!
The first step in their roadmap, of course, is convincing the Vikings to trade Peterson. Up until this point, the Minnesota team have been unwilling to give up hope of convincing Peterson to stay with the team. However, a number of unsuccessful meetings between Peterson and the Vikings top brass mean that the team has now, apparently, resigned themselves to the fact that their star running back may be on his way out of the door.
According to multiple reports, Peterson has now all but demanded a trade from the Vikings, and the team are quietly shopping the star.
Larry Fitzgerald Sr, a Minnesota sportswriter, and father of the Cardinals stud receiver, reported that Peterson has told the Vikings he wants out, and the team has agreed to explore trade options.
The Cardinals are reportedly willing to give up an “early” pick for Peterson, reportedly either a third rounder outright, or second round pick for Peterson and the Vikings seventh. There have also been reports that the Cardinals could consider offering a conditional pick in future drafts, and most reports agree that, as of yet, no formal offers have been made by anyone, so all of those offers could change over time as Peterson’s true value is established.
However, there is compelling reasons to believe that, once everything else falls into place, the Cardinals are prepared to make the Vikings an offer that may be too good for them to refuse, especially if Peterson digs in his heels and outright refuses to play in Minnesota this season, or they decide the drama that goes alongside keeping a disgruntled player is too much to deal with.
Some have viewed recent public statements that the Vikings will not release Peterson as a sign that the team intend to keep the running back under contract in 2015, however many others have interpreted this position very differently. There are real concerns that a disgruntled player of Peterson’s status is not something the Vikings want, especially given his contract, and, if they are unable to smooth things over with the player, they will trade him.
According to several people with knowledge of the situation, there was never any plan to release peterson, but this has now been made public more as a bargaining chip with their potential trading partners than it is a commitment to Peterson.
The Vikings need teams to know that they are not going to have the chance to sign Peterson as a free agent, in a hope of starting a bidding war, and driving up his trade value. Early reports indicated that a number of teams were planning on taking a “wait-and-see” approach to Peterson, in the hope that they could secure his services for a discounted rate once he was cut, and many interpret the most recent statements by the Vikings as a “come and get him, make us your best offer” call to potential suitors.
Step 2: Convince Peterson to restructure his contract—Done (in principal).
Adrian Peterson’s 2015 salary ($12.75 million) and cap number ($15.4 million) make any trade a non-starter for the Cardinals at this point. According to SI’s Peter King Cardinals sources have admitted “there is no way [the team] could live with those numbers”. Which is absolutely true. The Cardinals have a little under $10 million in cap space for 2015, and several other key areas to address, and that is before the draft (teams picking relatively late, like the Cardinals need to keep around $5-6 million in reserve to sign draft picks).
While it is true that the Cardinals could free up additional space by cutting or restructuring other contracts, and are currently carrying a number of players in their top 53 players (the figure used to calculate salary cap prior to final cuts) who will likely not suit up for the team in 2015, Peterson’s current cap number is still far too high, given the pains the Cardinals have gone to to bring players like Larry Fitzgerald’s contract into line.
However, Peterson’s camp have already admitted that the Cardinals are one of a few teams he would restructure his contract for, and multiple sources indicate that Arizona is his favoured destination, meaning that he is likely to be most lenient towards accommodating their needs.
According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports—who has been one of the more reliable reporters on the Peterson Saga—the magic number, from Peterson’s point of view, is $25 million guaranteed over 3 years, though in reality, there is probably some flexibility there, and the definition of “guaranteed” is always open to interpretation.
This is still a lot of money—a little over $8 million per season averaged across a 3 year deal—which would put Peterson in the top echelon of earners in the NFL, but it is a figure that the Cardinals can make work.
They can bring his cap number down significantly by making it a 4 year deal (with a voidable final year) and offering him somewhere in the region of $12 million up front as a signing bonus, and a $2 million salary in 2015, $5 in 2016 and $6 million 2017. This would pro-rate to only around a $5 million cap number in year one, $8 million in year two and $9 million in year three, with around $3 million in dead money in 2018 if he is done after three years, and if not by which point, the Cardinals will have already extended and reworked the contract in their favour, based on his performance.
While this sort of deal is very speculative, it certainly feels like the sort of deal that would tick Peterson’s boxes, while also giving the Cardinals enough breathing room to remain competitive.
Step 3: Avoid a bidding war—More likely with each passing day.
The Cardinals have been fairly conservative in free agency thus far, which has been their M.O. under GM Steve Keim. They have quietly improved their team in some key areas—not least of which, significantly improving their offensive line, by adding some premier run blockers, but have otherwise avoided overpaying for any of the big name free agents to hit the market. They tend to wait for bargains later in free agency, rather than getting drawn into bidding wars earlier
As more and more teams commit their limited cap space to other free agents, the Cardinals chances of securing Peterson’s services increase. If a bidding war starts, the Cardinals cannot afford to outbid some of their big spending counterparts, but already, a number of the other key names in the mix for Peterson’s services appear to have been forced to drop out.
The Dallas Cowboys had very limited cap space available, and while many thought that they would use most of that to make a serious push for Peterson—especially after letting 2014 breakout star DeMarco Murray leave via free agency—the team have instead gone all in on their defence, bringing in another star with baggage, pass rusher Greg Hardy, on an $11.3 million one year deal. Add to that running back Darren McFadden and the inevitable contract extension Dez Bryant will soon sign, and the Cowboys are in no position to outbid anyone.
The same is true for most other teams Peterson has expressed a desire to join, either filling the RB role, or simply running out of space to add him. And while there are indeed several other teams with the cap space to make a real run at the Vikings star, and assets to match or improve on any offer the Cardinals make to the Vikings—teams like the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns—they would be trading for his current contract, with no guarantee that he would renegotiate, making things a much less appealing proposition.
The only team remaining in the race for Peterson who could give the Arizona Cardinals a real run for their money would be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who Peterson also listed as a team he would potentially renegotiate his contract for. They have more than twice the cap space and have reportedly offered a straight up swap, trading Adrian Peterson for Doug Martin.
Martin is, at best, a backup player at this point in his career, so it is unlikely that the Vikings would take the bait on this sort of trade, but significantly, this is their starting offer, and by some accounts, negotiations are already underway between the Bucs and the Vikings for an improved deal.
They were reportedly also in the running for DeMarco Murray, and were ultimately outbid there, so it certainly seems that they are serious contenders, but all else being equal, it is hard to see them as a better landing spot, at least from Peterson’s point of view.
The Cardinals were legitimate Super Bowl contenders early in the season last year until injuries derailed their campeign, and Peterson would instantly improve the one area of their game where they were most obviously lacking. He would likely have two or three serious shots at a Super Bowl ring before his body gives up in Arizona.
In Tampa Bay on the other hand Peterson would be a big fish in a little pond, a Pro Bowl caliber player surrounded by a team very much in rebuilding mode. Most agree that the Buccaneers are two or three more drafts away from having a serious playoff run, by which point, Peterson may already be relegated to a situational back in a RB committee.
However, as we are constantly reminded, in the NFL, money talks, and regularly players choose financial security over a shot at a championship, so don’t count them out. But all else being equal, the Cardinals certainly have more to offer than the Bucs, simply because they offer Peterson a real shot at an NFL Championship.
Step 4: Wait for Peterson to be removed from the Commissioners Exempt list—No ETA yet.
The final step in the process, however, is a big one. Although Peterson’s suspension has been overturned, his NFL career is still on hold. Peterson now once again finds himself ineligible to take the field for the Vikings or anyone else, as he has been placed back on the Commissioners Exempt list, while the NFL appeal the judges decision.
By all accounts, if the appeal is unsuccessful, the league will have no choice but to re-instate him to the Vikings roster, but there is no knowing how long the NFL’s appeal will take.
Furthermore, however unlikely, if there is any chance that the leagues suspension will be upheld, and Peterson will miss time, no team is going to give up draft picks, players, or both to acquire him.
Put simply, Peterson is going to need to be free and clear in the eyes of the NFL before most teams will even consider making a run at him, not least of which an Arizona Cardinals team whose president, Michael Bidwill, was recently named chair of the NFLs Personal Conduct Committee.
Until Peterson is formally cleared by the NFL, most teams are going to remain low-key, and hands-off in their dealings with the Vikings and with Peterson himself. Once he is cleared to return, however, expect a formal offer to come from the Cardinals quickly.