- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- In the end, maybe it was never as complicated as we thought.
The Minnesota Vikings always had the contract leverage to eventually compel Adrian Peterson to return, but a team that has been quick to unload malcontents wasn't going to keep Peterson in purple simply because it could. For the Vikings to hang on to Peterson, they had to believe they possessed the right elixir to cure his misgiving about staying in Minnesota, or at least convince him to put them aside.
And in Mike Zimmer, they did.
Make no mistake: Zimmer's relationship with Peterson -- forged through eye-to-eye meetings and candid conversations between two alpha males in a short time last year -- was a major reason the 2012 NFL MVP is back in his familiar No. 28 uniform today.
Whatever reservations Peterson had about how Vikings COO Kevin Warren handled him last year, or how the public would receive him and his family in a return to Minnesota, the team believed they'd eventually get swallowed up by Peterson's competitive fire and his deep respect for Zimmer. Put simply, if Peterson got back to playing football with teammates he liked and coaches he trusted, the Vikings believed everything would take care of itself.
That might not be completely true yet. When I asked Peterson in an email Tuesday morning whether he had resolved all of the concerns he discussed in February, he said: "I'm returning because I want to. I’m a part of this football team and I owe it to the guys I play with and to our coaches." And in his press conference on Tuesday afternoon, Peterson made no mention of the people on the business side of the organization, like chief operating officer Kevin Warren, whose actions really stung him. Those close to Peterson know how deeply he was scarred by the events of last year, when he quickly was cast as a villain after years as a hero in Minnesota. That's not something you get over in a few days or weeks, and there might be a harder edge to Peterson's typical carefree demeanor around the Vikings' practice facility now.
But there's time for those wounds to heal, or at least be numbed by the normalcy of Peterson's football routine. The Vikings will become a trendy playoff pick with Peterson lining up next to Teddy Bridgewater, and they have a chance to enter their new billion-dollar stadium in 2016 with a full head of steam. And while a league source said the Vikings haven't given Peterson any assurances about reworking his contract to guarantee part of his salary in 2016, there's a feeling the two sides will eventually arrive at a compromise, rather than move toward another standoff next spring.
In the end, Peterson didn't need a financial guarantee to return to Minnesota. It was another set of conversations last week, after Zimmer said Peterson could "play for us or play for no one," that ultimately got Peterson back to Minnesota. Zimmer let Peterson know he had made the comment because he was tired of answering questions about the topic, not because he wanted to challenge the running back; Peterson told Zimmer he understood. By the weekend, Peterson seemed to be leaning toward coming back.
Asked how much Zimmer meant to him during the last nine months, Peterson said, "A lot. Maybe more than he knows.
"He’s just one of those guys, one of those coaches, that you really don’t want to disappoint, because you understand, you’re able to see that he has the same passion for the game as you. And he’s going to do the right thing. ... He’s always been straightforward with me during this process. He’s been supportive as well. So yeah, you know, considering the other coaches as well and coach Zimmer, that played a role.”
So what happens now? Do we put a bow on l'affaire Peterson and assume everyone's happy again? It might be a bit premature to go that far. But if there was one thing that would eventually reorient Peterson's compass to the north, it was going to be the bond he'd quickly forged with his coach. The Vikings ultimately bet that they knew Peterson and Zimmer well enough for everything to work out. And on Tuesday morning, it did.