Use discretion when it comes to Peterson

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
12:30
PM ET
MINNEAPOLIS -- There's been plenty of chatter in the wake of Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's comments in a Pro Football Talk interview that "Adrian Peterson is not going anywhere." And while that's probably true, context and perspective can often get lost in the NFL echo chamber. So, we'll attempt to provide a little bit of that here.

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesDespite comments to the contrary, Adrian Peterson's future in Minnesota isn't certain.
Peterson has wondered aloud on several occasions about the possibility of playing somewhere else, but he's usually done so when he's been asked what he thinks of the idea. The refreshing thing about Peterson -- and the thing that sometimes gets him in trouble -- is that if he's asked a question, he'll ponder it and answer it honestly, which means if a reporter posits an idea to him, he'll speak in hypotheticals and give his honest opinion about it. That's far different than him trying to force his way out of town. While he's been more outspoken about keeping an eye on what the organization is doing, he also was more guarded than he'd been in previous interviews when I asked him about the idea of playing for another team in an interview about players voting him the player they'd most like to see in a Super Bowl.

"I try to stay in stride with what's going on and play my cards as they're dealt to me," he said. "I've always said I would love to finish here, with the Vikings, so I'll just stick with that."

Now, the Vikings' side of things: Spielman said at the scouting combine last February the Vikings had "no intent" of trading Percy Harvin, a carefully worded statement that gave Spielman room to execute a deal everyone knew could be happening soon. Spielman traded Harvin to Seattle on March 11. And on Nov. 1, the general manager was asked about the future of coach Leslie Frazier. He said, "Leslie Frazier is not going anywhere. I am telling you that we are very committed to Leslie Frazier and this coaching staff." To be fair, Spielman was asked that day if Frazier's job was safe for the rest of the season, but rather than simply answering in the affirmative, he gave a statement that suggested the Vikings were firmly behind Frazier, who was fired on Dec. 30.

Spielman, of course, is well within his right to give himself wiggle room in his public comments, and he's hardly the only general manager to do so. He gets paid to put a winning team on the field, and he's decided -- as many executives have -- that it often makes more sense to bluff than to show many of his cards. In some ways, Peterson has done the same thing. But that's also why reporters (and by extension, fans) have to view things through that prism. Common sense always said Harvin could be dealt soon, and that Frazier's job was in jeopardy, and common sense also is a useful barometer in the Peterson situation.

Here are the facts: Peterson will be 29 in March, and is coming off his third surgery in as many years. He's carried 2,033 times in seven NFL seasons. As great as he's been, and could continue to be, his worth on the trade market would be about future returns, and it's tough to see another team paying full value to acquire a running back with that much mileage.

And make no mistake: From a contractual standpoint, Peterson's fate is firmly in the Vikings' hands. He's signed through 2017, with only non-guaranteed base salaries left in his contract, and though the Vikings would have freedom to release Peterson in his later years if they need the cap space, the running back can't exactly demand his way out of town (not that Peterson is necessarily the type to do that, anyway). But while the Vikings' quarterback situation is in flux, and their offense is still built around their running game, Peterson is the most valuable asset they have. If there were any possibility of him moving on at some point, it would require the Vikings' offensive structure to look much, much different than it does now.

That's why we'd encourage some context when reading and reacting to comments such as the ones we've discussed here. The reality is, anything Spielman, Peterson or anyone else says about the running back's future could be true now, but it might not be true three months or three years from now. Every situation in the big-business, highly competitive world of the NFL can be changed for the right price. The fact that Brett Favre wound up in a Vikings uniform should be evidence of that, and while we'd be highly skeptical that Peterson is leaving the Vikings anytime soon, we'd also be highly skeptical of the notion that it's impossible he could.

Ben Goessling

ESPN Minnesota Vikings reporter

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