|Tim Heitman/US Presswire|
|Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is 26 years old and set to hit the free-agent market after the 2011 season.|
The running back who's smiling ear-to-ear and planning a secure financial future for the next few generations of his family isn't headed to work in Nashville. This guy handles his business in suburban Minneapolis. His name is Adrian Peterson. He is about to get paid.
The Vikings running back is slated to be a free agent after the 2011 season. With Titans running back Chris Johnson on Thursday securing a four-year, $53.5 million extension with $30 million guaranteed, Peterson now has a baseline to work from.
What Peterson has that Johnson didn't is the leverage of pending free agency. Tennessee signed Johnson, the game's most explosive running back, because it needs him. There really isn't that much to work with on offense and he's somebody who makes others look and play better.
The Vikings must pay Peterson because if they don't someone else will. He will be a free agent after the season and although running backs have lost their value because of their short shelf lives and the NFL now being a passing league, there are more than a few teams that would trip over their checkbooks in a scramble to sign Peterson.
Peterson is a more well-rounded player than Johnson and he's only 26, the beginning of his physical prime. He's also a total pro.
I don't begrudge Johnson or any player holding out for more money. Often, it's the only leverage they possess. I also don't begrudge players like Peterson or Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who just signed a eight-year, $120 million contract, for playing things quietly and working through their existing contracts, knowing an injury could derail a monster pay day.
The Vikings might not want to get into a major negotiation snafu with Peterson and they could place the franchise tag on him. That would tie up their salary cap, though, and for a team that could be making major roster changes next season, it would serve them better to sign him to a long-term deal to provide more flexibility to bolster Peterson.
Peterson also is Minnesota's most valuable player. As tough as things could have been for the Titans without Johnson, imagine the Vikings this season without Peterson. They already lost wide receiver Sidney Rice and the quarterback situation isn't quite what some would consider comfortable.
With Johnson just signing his deal, things for Peterson seemingly are set to get better.
Follow Steve Wyche on Twitter @wyche89