When Adrian Peterson's reinstatement was announced Thursday, the clock started ticking on a decision about his future. The Minnesota Vikings, to whom he is still under contract, have insisted that Peterson -- who was kept off the field for nearly all of the 2014 season after inflicting injuries on his child -- will play for them or no one in 2015. Peterson, making the dubious decision to take on the role of the aggrieved party, has made it clear that he no longer feels comfortable with the Vikings, because he does not believe they stood by him strongly enough during his crisis. It is obvious he wants a trade.
With the 2015 NFL Draft two weeks away, a trade would almost certainly have to come together in the approaching days. There would be suitors, despite Peterson's big contract and heavy baggage. Even at 30, he remains a premier running back, one who accrued little in the way of wear and tear last year. The Vikings lost a sponsor when they were prepared to let him back on the field in 2014. But that likely won't be a problem now. After all, the Dallas Cowboys have already signed Greg Hardy -- who was accused (and convicted by a judge) of choking his girlfriend and throwing her on a pile of weapons, though the charges were dismissed when, as his appeal by jury trial was about to begin, the alleged victim could not be found to testify. We shouldn't expect any teams to shy away from Peterson, particularly because he has already served his punishment.
The punishment itself might also be instructive. Peterson wound up being suspended for six games, and while a federal judge essentially told the NFL it couldn't suspend him for so long, the end result was that Peterson remained off the field and, depending on a court's ruling, might still lose some of those six game checks.
As was true of Peterson, the acts that Hardy was accused of committing happened before the implementation of a new personal-conduct policy in the wake of the Ray Rice fiasco. But there is no expectation that the NFL will suspend Hardy for just two games, as the NFL Players Association (and perhaps even the courts) might contend it should. The NFL is conducting its own investigation into Hardy's situation.
It is nearly inconceivable, though, that the NFL will settle on a two-game suspension for Hardy, any more than the league would have settled for just two games against Peterson. One NFL official said several weeks ago that giving Hardy two games would be going back to square one, where the league was before the Rice video surfaced and the NFL was plunged into a national discourse on domestic violence. Rice and Peterson became the faces of that discussion. But Hardy is coming in their wake. And as such, six games -- under the new domestic violence policy, a first offense will net a player at least a six-game suspension -- might serve as a baseline for Hardy.
In the meantime, Peterson and the Vikings will have to figure out his future. Thirty-year-old running backs are generally a bad long-term investment. But the Vikings, with a new stadium under construction, need not just the success but the star power that Peterson can bring them, at least in the short term. Because of that, they seem prepared to pay Peterson more than any other team would. Perhaps that will ultimately be enough to soothe Peterson's discomfort with the team.
This might be a good time to remind Peterson that his actions are what created the team's reaction. The Vikings have opened their arms to him again by saying publicly and privately they want him back, essentially recruiting him -- and almost certainly smoothing the public perception of Peterson, easing the way for his reinstatement. The Vikings owe nothing to Peterson beyond the considerable terms of his contract -- but they might owe it to their team to turn away from a disgruntled employee.
Of the players who came to symbolize the NFL's domestic violence problem last year, Peterson will likely be the first to return to the field, with Hardy still almost certain to be suspended and Rice still looking for work and claiming that the media doesn't really know him. Wherever Peterson returns, and whenever Hardy and maybe even Rice join him, they'll need all of their talent and a bit more self-awareness to finally put the past year behind themselves and the NFL.