- Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Senior NFL Writer
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CLEVELAND -- The Browns lack serious playmaking depth on offense, face questions at quarterback, want to run the ball 30-plus times a game as a result, have a ton of cap space and know the best running back of this generation is eager for a fresh start.
That’s a loaded question, and one that is irrelevant if Browns officials don't want the headaches associated with a player who sat nearly a full season and reached a plea deal in a child-abuse case. That position is understandable.
If you consider Peterson someone who made a mistake but isn’t a criminal, however, then maybe you would consider the on-field dynamics: an elite 30-year-old running back who is due $12.75 million next year with three years left on a blockbuster deal.
For the Browns, that number isn’t backbreaking. In fact, that number can be reworked. Everything can be reworked with flimsy NFL contracts. The team still has $30.96 million in cap space after finishing a series of short-term deals for aging starters. The Browns could cut a deal that provides flexibility after two years.
Giving up, say, a second-rounder for a Peterson trade wouldn’t cripple the franchise. The Browns have 10 picks this year, including six in the top 115.
A workhorse running back would complement young backs Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West, who are promising but erratic. It would give Crowell and West more time to develop. The suddenly impressive tailback depth would help Peterson, too.
Of course, there are a few major hurdles here:
1) The dip in running back production at age 30 is significant (a drop of 100-plus yards on average from age 30 to 32).
2) Peterson could veto a trade to a place such as Cleveland, which doesn’t have Dallas' cachet.
3) The Vikings might not trade him.
Those last two points are unavoidable.
As to No. 1, however: I believe Peterson is different. And knowing Peterson, he’s prepared to convert that violent running style into another take-my-name-back performance. A player aiming for an all-time spot had to sit a year in his prime. Yeah, he’s running angry.
Peterson values his place in NFL history. He would relish the photo ops with Jim Brown. You don’t think that would excite a fatalistic Browns fan base that sees more quarterbacks than George Whitfield?
Browns general manager Ray Farmer seems to think you can win with just dudes on offense. The Dwayne Bowe and Brian Hartline signings were solid. Andrew Hawkins is a nice piece. But it’s not enough. The Browns ran out of gas late last season, and it'll happen again if they don't get more help. No starting tight ends are on this roster.
The Browns ran the ball 477 times last season. Only the Bengals, Jets, Cowboys, Seahawks and Texans had more. Four of those teams played with an elite back or one close to being one (Bengals running back Jeremy Hill).
If that’s your identity, if this offensive line is as good as most believe, affirm it with one of the last true workhorses of the modern era.
This isn’t to say the Browns should be willing to pay Peterson’s remaining $43.25 million contractual balance. Work out alternatives.
But at least make the phone call.
At least consider the possibilities.
Then ask Peterson and the Vikings if they will do the same.