Adrian Peterson has been the face of the Minnesota Vikings franchise for seven seasons now. Over this time period, Peterson has won a MVP award, rushed for 2,000 yards and claimed many Vikings franchise records. After four successful seasons with the Vikings, Peterson signed a seven-year, $96 million contract that, at the time, appeared more than appropriate.
While Peterson has earned every bit of his contract so far, the NFL is shifting to a passing league and the Vikings will inevitably be forced to shift to being a passing team as well. As a result, the Vikings must release Peterson, or at least restructure his contract following the 2014 NFL season.
In 2014, Peterson’s contract will cost the Vikings $14.4 million in cap space. This number equates to roughly 8.7 percent of the Vikings’ 2014 salary cap. Peterson’s average annual salary of roughly $14.4 million is over $5 million higher than the next highest paid running back in the NFL, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy. Also, the total value of Peterson’s contract is $96 million, which is more than double the total value of any other running back contract in the NFL today.
Following the 2014 season, the Vikings will have an opportunity to release Peterson, taking only a $2.4 million salary cap hit. This would save the Vikings $13.3 million next season, as Peterson’s salary in 2015 would take up $15.4 million in salary cap space.
Peterson will turn 30 years old in March following the 2014 season. While the past has proven that betting against him is generally not a good idea, Peterson’s best years are likely behind him. As a result, he will almost certainly be unable to fulfill a $15.4 million salary, whether this is a result of injury or regression due to his age.
Given his history, work ethic, drive and superhuman-like physical frame, it would not be a bad bet to assume that Peterson will be a productive running back in the NFL for quite a few more years. However, no running back is worth the money he is currently making during this time period in the NFL.
There is little doubt that Vikings fans would rather see Peterson restructure his contract than play for a different team, but if he refuses, releasing him to clear space for extending younger players’ contracts or signing a big-name free agent would be the best decision for the Vikings’ front office.