The timing of this surgery is cruel considering the path Peterson and the Vikings took before arriving at this moment. Peterson famously returned from a torn ACL to lead the league in rushing in 2012. After missing nearly all of the 2014 season following an indictment for child abuse, Peterson returned last year to lead the league in rushing and earn his fourth first-team All Pro honor.
NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported there's a chance Peterson could potentially return for a December run to the playoffs, according to a source informed of Peterson's situation. If the last two weeks are any indication, Peterson should be joining a team still very much in the mix.
Where will Vikings stand if Peterson returns?
The Vikings can still survive in the months ahead. They are a team built around its defense and is not exactly barren at running back. Minnesota finished fourth in rushing according to Football Outsiders' metrics in 2014 when Peterson only played one game with the same tandem they will turn to this year: Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata. The team also signed former Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman on Wednesday for depth.
None of these players will end up in Canton like Peterson, but McKinnon especially is ready to step up. He could be a superior option on passing downs and will get more of a chance to regularly use his explosiveness as a runner. McKinnon has averaged 4.9 yards per carry in 168 career tries, which is not a small sample size.
Asiata has also improved over the last two seasons and is versatile enough to be used in short yardage or passing situations. He's not a dynamic player, but he's not a liability. Perhaps most important, McKinnon and Asiata know Norv Turner's offense well.
The Vikings should feel confident about taking the next step up to a top-five defense with emerging talents like linebacker Eric Kendricks and defensive end Danielle Hunter adding to their incredible depth. The backfield should also be fine. Staying in first place could come down more to the offensive line improving and Sam Bradford building on his incredibly impressive first start with the Vikings.
A new contract
The Vikings owe Peterson $17.75 million in 2017, including a $6 million roster bonus in March. He's not getting that money and both sides likely knew he wasn't getting that money when this contract was signed. This injury only makes the issue more complicated.
It's important to remember the negotiations that led to Peterson's latest deal. Back in 2015, conventional wisdom held that it was only a matter of time before Peterson was an ex-Viking. The organization's support for Peterson during his legal troubles was cautious, and Peterson expressed misgivings about rejoining the team. Coach Mike Zimmer was always in Peterson's corner and the running back incredibly wound up with enough leverage to get more guaranteed money from Minnesota despite his time away from the team.
Peterson's standing in team history and the track record of this management group makes it far more likely that the two sides will be able to find common ground. Peterson will have to take a pay cut, but perhaps the Vikings could construct a contract with enough incentives to make it up to him.
Owner Zygi Wilf and general manager Rick Spielman know better than anyone that Peterson is often at his best after he's counted out. That's why we wouldn't be surprised if Peterson finishes this season with a flourish and returns for a full season in U.S. Bank Stadium in 2017 with dreams of a home Super Bowl for one of the franchise's greatest all-time players.