The best running back in the NFL is back. The question is where he goes now.
The NFL announced Adrian Peterson will be reinstated to the league, effective Friday. He may participate in all scheduled activities with the Minnesota Vikings if he chooses. Peterson met with Commissioner Roger Goodell on April 7, and pledged to maintain an "ongoing program of counseling and treatment as recommended by medical advisors."
This is technically an option, but it's not happening. NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport reported in March that the Vikings informed Peterson they will not release him. General manager Rick Spielman knows that spending ownership's money on Peterson and then getting nothing in return for him is a recipe for trouble.
The feeling wasn't exactly mutual. Peterson has said publicly that he is "uneasy" with returning to the team. Rapoport has reported that Peterson wants a "fresh start." While Peterson's father didn't rule out a return to Minnesota, A.P. clearly won't be amenable to reducing his salary. Meeting with Vikings brass at Peterson's home did not melt the ice between the two sides.
The Vikings' coaches have professed a desire to keep Peterson. So has the front office. They aren't going to release him at this stage.
Keep Peterson at current salary
This solution sounds simple, but it could get messy. Do the Vikings want to risk more daily drama if Peterson is unhappy about staying put?
Peterson could potentially skip offseason practices, forcing Minnesota to fine or suspend him. After the tumult of last season, the Vikings want to avoid more headlines and uncertainty.
Here's where things get interesting. The Arizona Cardinals are among the teams known to be interested in Peterson; his father said as much. But his contract is reportedly a problem for them. The Dallas Cowboys also can't be ignored. Peterson's appreciation for the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones' willingness to make bold moves are well known. It's just tricky for the Cowboys to carve out enough salary cap space to get him.
While Peterson turned 30 this month, he hasn't slowed down on the field. He avoided any wear and tear this past season. He would inspire a strong market if truly available on draft day, but the Vikings have made it clear they want to keep him.
"If a blockbuster deal opens and a team wants to give them something they can't turn down, they're going to have to take a look at it," Peterson's father Nelson told the St. Paul Pioneer Press in February.
Sweeten Peterson's deal
This could be tough for Minnesota to swallow, but they could surely get their running back on board with more money. (Donovan McNabb once famously received a "financial apology.")
Rapoport reported, per sources close to Peterson, that the running back feels he lost around $10 million between endorsements and salary last season. If Minnesota guaranteed some of his 2016 salary, that would go a long way toward mending the relationship.
This is the move to make if the Vikings truly want to keep Peterson in place, and pay him like one of the game's best players.
"You've got to realize that the decision really isn't up to us," Peterson's father noted. "The Vikings hold that card. They have a contract through 2017, so the Vikings have the right to the decision. Are they going to pay Adrian the money he is due or not going to pay him his money or try to trade him?"