So the hammer has finally fallen on Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who the NFL suspended for the rest of the year (at least) without pay. So we can finally move on, correct?
Probably not. First of all, there is little chance that the NFLPA will let this stand. Peterson very much wants to play, and the NFLPA has already issued a statement that they will appeal the suspension, adding that "an NFL executive told Adrian that his time on the Commissioner's list would be considered as time served."
Add to that the suspension is costing Peterson $4,147,058 in 2014 salary and the NFLPA has a case that this is suspension is wrong. (Of course, one could argue that paid vacation isn't a suspension and since that is what Peterson "served," he can still be punished by the NFL.)
So it's not over yet. I suspect that the NFL dropped a huge suspension on Peterson mostly for public relations reasons. By going overboard on Peterson, knowing full well that the NFLPA would throw a fit, they can now roll back the suspension by at least a few games (if not completely) while also having the luxury of pointing to the original suspension to say, "See, we tried to do it right but the NFLPA forced us to go easy on him. We didn't want to, but we had to."
It's plausible deniability (or implausible, depending on how you look at it), which has been what the NFL seems to be focused on most of the time these days whether it's child abuse allegations or videotapes of domestic battery.
This also gives the Minnesota Vikings room to breathe as well, since they are in the position of having no good choices to make anyway. On the one hand, they could really use Peterson on the field and the players sound like they want him back.
On the other hand, the last time he stepped on the field was followed by a torrent of terrible press and outrage by fans. The Wilfs don't want that, especially as they build the brand new stadium to house their team, one which is being built in part by public money. At this point, the Vikings would likely prefer Peterson be suspended by the NFL so they can wipe their hands of this. If he is reinstated, they have to make a difficult choice. It's no surprise to hear that the franchise is torn on how to deal with Peterson.
So what will happen now?
Peterson has three more years left on his contract with cap hits ranging from $15.5 million next year to $17 million in 2017. We all know that contracts almost never see the final year, but it's a lot of money for a franchise in the midst of rebuilding.
I've written about the law of diminishing returns for high-paid skill position players and with running backs past the age of 30 (which Peterson turns next March), you expect a sudden drop in production at some point. Between the high cap hit, his age and the public relations disaster Peterson has created, I suspect the Vikings will be ready to move on from Peterson.
Of course, fans and teammates will still be outraged -- especially considering that it appears as if the Vikings will have plenty of cap space to keep Peterson even at his high price -- but if the team can build a contender, that will help ease the transition.
There's still a good chance he plays for the Vikings, by the way. Don't write that off, as he is Adrian Peterson and talent almost always trumps everything. I like Jerrick McKinnon, but as effective as he has been, he's not on Peterson's level.
Assuming that he doesn't though, what then?
More than likely, the Vikings would trade Peterson rather than cut him, as there is no way they will let Peterson go without some return on him. Here are a few possible landing spots.
With Marshawn Lynch looking very much like he won't be there next year, the Seahawks are going to be in need of a feature back. So far, Robert Turbin and Christine Michael haven't done anything to make the team confident that they can carry the load if the Seahawks decide to move on from Lynch, who has one year left on his contract and looking for a last big contract when he is turning 30.
Peterson would be a great fit in this offense, running behind an excellent line and catching short passes from Russell Wilson.
But Peterson is going to hit 30 about the same time Lynch is, so that's not really an upgrade. The Seahawks are also on the verge of having to pay Wilson a pretty big contract, as he is done with his rookie deal at the end of 2015.
So while this might make some sense on the football field, it's unlikely to make financial sense for the Seahawks.
New England Patriots
Stop me if you've heard this before: a troubled player is released/traded from his team and lands on New England's roster where he rebuilds his image and has a fantastic few seasons.
It hasn't happened in awhile, but the Patriots used to be very happy to pick up other team's trash and turn it into treasure. Bill Belichick keeps a quiet locker room and runs a tight ship. Sure, the Aaron Hernandez disaster stings, but more often than not, players go to New England and behave (Ryan Mallett is a recent example).
It's unlikely that Peterson would land here via trade, but if he were released, don't be shocked if New England kicks the tires.
Corey Dillon, Randy Moss, Brandon Browner, Mallett -- all had issues off the field, but rehabilitated their images with the Patriots.
Peterson could easily be attracted to the chance to rebuild his public perception and he would be a great fit in the Patriots offense -- especially since defenses would be spending all day worrying about Rob Gronkowski.
I don't put this at a high likelihood of happening, but it's an intriguing possibility.
How 'bout them Cowboys?
We've already heard all about how Peterson would love to play for them, and Jerry Jones would love to have him. Some have pointed out that while many people in Texas feel what Peterson did to his son was excessive, overall Texas is far more comfortable with the nature of the punishment Peterson was handing his son than other states.
As one Dallas radio host wrote:
They just don't understand AP like 'we' do.
'We' believe and practice corporal punishment. We got whoopins, beatings, belts and switches administered like a bath at night. We agree and support your way of parenting Adrian. We get it, because it's the way we grew up. Come back home and finish your HOF career here. We would welcome you with open arms like no one else in the country.
(I will point out the irony of a guy whose bio says he was born and raised in Cambridge, Mass. , is using the word "we" in this context.)
Anyway, the quote just highlights that Peterson may be more quickly welcomed in his home state.
DeMarco Murray is in the final year of his rookie contract, but while he has been having a ridiculous season, it's the first one he has been fully healthy for since he entered the NFL.
Would you pay Murray off one great year and risk him ending up back on the trainer's table again next season, costing you a tremendous amount of money? Or would you rather pay Peterson the end of his contract, knowing that you'll more than likely get a high level of play every week?
On top of everything else, this is a Jerry Jones team we're talking about. We know Jones loves Peterson, and we know he has no issue making bold moves when he wants to. With a little financial wiggling, Jones could find the financial room as well.
I just pictured Peterson behind that offensive line and got shivers. If I had to bet, this is the one I'd expect to happen.
Wherever Peterson lands -- or even if he stays in Minnesota -- he's got a lot of work to do before fans forgive him for what he did to his son. We know the NFL forgives much more quickly though, so don't be shocked when you see him playing, even as soon as this season.