The attempt to spin a narrative of the victimization of Adrian Peterson never quite worked, considering his complaints about how the Minnesota Vikings treated him last season -- along with more recent complaints about the lack of guaranteed money in NFL contracts -- came mere months after he was temporarily banishedby the NFL after facing child abuse charges.
So on Tuesday, Peterson made the only move -- this side of retiring -- he could. The six-time Pro Bowler reported to a team that still wants him, that will pay him handsomely to be on the field, that will offer him an opportunity that star athletes seem to enjoy far more regularly than non-celebrities: the chance to rehabilitate his personal reputation on the back of his professional accomplishments.
It was one of the few smart moves Peterson has made since last fall. He and his representatives never seemed to grasp that positioning him as the aggrieved party was foolish and offensive. Peterson is a transcendent football talent, but his early lack of obvious contrition for hitting his 4-year-old son with a switchuntil he had visible injuries means that there is a segment of the public that didn't care if Peterson -- like Ray Rice or Greg Hardy or Ray McDonald -- ever got back on the field.
The Vikings, though, needing his star power and talents to bolster second-year pro Teddy Bridgewater at quarterback, apparently wanted him back so badly that they hastily announced his return last fall, igniting the anger of some sponsors until the league office stepped in to unearth the little-used Commissioner's Exempt List, on which Peterson was eventually parked. What Peterson seemed to miss was that the entire embarrassing episode for the Wilf family -- which owns the Vikings -- came about precisely because, it seems, the team's football people, driven by their desire to get Peterson in the mix again, grossly misread the mood of the public and the league office. Peterson was reinstated by the league in April, with Commissioner Roger Goodell noting in a letter that he still had concerns that Peterson had "not yet fully embraced the need for significant changes to (his) parenting practices."
Still, Peterson had no leverage in his standoff beyond the ability to make this summer very unpleasant for the team via a few more pointed comments or whispered thinking from his agent. So it was always hard to imagine he would really stay away completely. Peterson is scheduled to have his $12.75 million base salary for 2015 guaranteed in Week 1 (he has a workout bonus tied to appearing at OTAs that the Vikings could still choose to pay, as they have done even when he missed some of them in the past), and the Vikings have him under contract through 2017. Of course, there is no guaranteed money left, so theoretically, Minnesota could cut Peterson without paying him anything.
But that has never appeared to be their intent. The Vikings seem to have arrived at their decisions via the complicated calculus that made McDonald expendable to the Bears last week but Hardy coveted by the Cowboys earlier this spring. Peterson is talented enough that it is worth it to the Vikings to absorb whatever backlash might come with welcoming him back. The team has insisted Peterson would play for the Vikings or no one -- coach Mike Zimmer, who maintains a good relationship with Peterson, reiterated that only last week. The first half of that offer is now about to be put into effect, in large part because Minnesota was not going to trade away a running back of Peterson's caliber without getting an impossibly rich haul in return.
NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported the Vikings made no concessions on Peterson's contract, and Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, told The Associated Press that the Vikings have given no assurances Peterson's contract will be reworked to guarantee some portion of it. Getting Peterson back into camp -- to rejoin a team that, with a stable of young offensive talent and the 11th-ranked scoring defense in 2014, has clear playoff potential -- is a victory for the franchise. This is particularly true because a scenario can now be imagined in which Peterson is still a star player for the Vikings when they open their new stadium in 2016.
"I understand this is a business," Peterson wrote to the AP in an email as he prepared to report to the Vikings on Tuesday morning. "Clearly there were a lot of emotions involved, but I will only be better from the situation. I have a role to play and the Vikings have one, as well. It's time to move forward and put my energy and focus on preparing for the season."
How much the 30-year-old Peterson will contribute remains an unanswerable question for now. This is the age at which running backs typically begin a precipitous decline. But Peterson has always been a physical marvel. He had 2,097 rushing yards in 2012, an astonishing season that began just nine months after he tore two knee ligaments.
It might turn out that the 2014 layoff -- he carried 21 times for 75 yards in his one-game season -- will ultimately work to Peterson's advantage. He will have fresh legs and extra motivation to absorb a heavy workload as he shoulders a burden that, perhaps, only this mutually beneficial arrangement can help him relieve.