The big news in the NFL on Thursday was that a federal judge ruled in favor of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, which could clear the way for him to be reinstated. Here I give projected odds on where Peterson will play the upcoming season.
Of course Peterson was suspended and placed on the commissioner's exempt list for all but one game last season after pleading no contest to one count of misdemeanor reckless injury for disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch last May. Some believe the Vikings purposefully put that burden of punishing Peterson on the NFL, basically passing the buck.
The ball is very much in the court of the Vikings right now because Peterson is under contract through 2017, although we all know that NFL contracts often aren't worth the paper they are printed on because they are not guaranteed. Peterson would carry a massive cap number of $15.4 million for the coming season. That's by far the most of any running back, and tailbacks simply aren't worth anything near that in today's NFL. Peterson will be 30 on March 21, and 30 is generally the age that elite backs fall off a cliff in terms of production. I know one thing for sure: Peterson will not be a Viking at his current salary. And another thing: Peterson is going to play with a major chip on his shoulder in 2015.
Here are five possibilities for Peterson and my NFL odds.
Minnesota Vikings (+200): I list the Vikes as favorites only because Peterson still is a Viking and the team holds all the leverage. Obviously Peterson could just stay put and play for that salary. He had said publicly a month or so ago that he wanted to return to the only NFL team he has known, but then there were recent reports that Peterson was "still uneasy" about returning and that the Vikings ambushed him by working with the NFL in putting him on the exempt list. The Vikings had little choice because many of their top sponsors were bailing. Peterson used to be the most popular athlete in the state, but child abuse charges aren't forgotten or forgiven easily. There also have been reports that Peterson's agent had to be separated from Vikings VP of football operations Rob Brzezinski during the NFL Combine and that the agent told Brzezinski that Peterson would never play for the Vikings again. The easiest thing is for the Vikings, if not keeping him, to simply waive Peterson before June 1 and they would automatically clear $13 million in cap space ($2.4 million in dead money would remain). Minnesota could try to trade Peterson, who almost certainly would have to rework his contract with a new team.
Dallas Cowboys (+250): This is where Peterson, a Texas native, wants to play. He even told Jerry Jones as much during a June conversation, which nearly led to tampering charges for Jones. Obviously there is one major roadblock to this happening: DeMarco Murray, who won the 2014 NFL rushing title and set numerous franchise records. However, can the Cowboys sign both Murray and star receiver Dez Bryant? Both are free agents and it will be tough with the Cowboys tight up against the cap. They are expected to franchise Bryant because star receivers are simply more important than top running backs these days. If Murray walks, the Cowboys immediately become favorites.
Indianapolis Colts (+500): If Peterson were set free and Dallas re-signed Murray, Indy makes the most sense by far. The Colts might be only a good running back from being a Super Bowl team. Trent Richardson obviously won't be back and neither, likely, will Ahmad Bradshaw. Is Indy going to hitch its wagons to Boom Herron and injury-prone Vick Ballard? Doubtful. The Colts have plenty of cap space to add Peterson to star QB Andrew Luck and excellent receiver T.Y. Hilton.
New York Jets (+800): The one-year experiment with Chris Johnson failed as the Jets cut the former 2,000-yard rusher a couple of weeks ago. Why not try with another 2K guy? Chris Ivory and Daryl Richardson are the only other Jets running backs under contract for next season. Adding Peterson would allow the Jets to focus elsewhere on offense in the draft instead of perhaps taking a tailback in the second round (no running back is worth the No. 6 overall pick that New York holds).
San Diego Chargers (+1000): The Bolts' top running back, Ryan Mathews, is a free agent. It's possible he re-signs, but the Chargers may not meet his price because Mathews is always hurt. If Minnesota were to trade Peterson, I'd imagine the Vikings would want to do so to an AFC team. A trio of Philip Rivers, Peterson and receiver Keenan Allen would be pretty darn good. However, the Chargers might have more interest in recently released Reggie Bush, who would be much cheaper and is from San Diego.
Other possibilities: New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans (if they move on from injury-prone Arian Foster), Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders.