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Friday, September 16, 2011
Projecting the Adrian Peterson Era

By Kevin Seifert

Adrian Peterson
Minnesota has roughly a three-season window in which Adrian Peterson should still be an elite back.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- About 24 hours after signing tailback Adrian Peterson to a groundbreaking seven-year contract, the Minnesota Vikings took the field at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium. Peterson is one of the NFL's best players, but not even he could elevate an anemic offensive performance that produced 10 points, 10 first downs and a total of 187 yards in a loss to the San Diego Chargers.

A reminder of an NFC North blog rule: We draw no season-long conclusions based on what we see in Week 1. But on the occasion of Peterson's long-term contract, and with the educated assumption that this division will be highly competitive in the short term, it's worth asking: What will the Vikings net from having a future Hall of Fame running back on their roster for at least the meat of his career?

Since drafting Peterson in 2007, the Vikings have compiled a 36-29 regular-season record. They've won the NFC North twice, have one postseason victory and are coming off a 2010 season that they advertised as a final Super Bowl run with their current nucleus.

Some of that nucleus has been dispersed, but many of the Vikings' most prominent players remain on the wrong side of 30 years old. That list that includes cornerback Antoine Winfield (34), defensive tackle Kevin Williams (31) and linebacker E.J. Henderson (31). Defensive end Jared Allen is 29.

Most important, the Vikings are due for a quarterback transition at some point from Donovan McNabb to Christian Ponder, an exercise that could set them up for a decade at the position but could have some choppy points along the way. If Week 1 showed us anything, it's that run-only teams won't fare well in the NFL's current environment. Effective passing games are an essential complement, if nothing else.

To be clear, most issues the Vikings face are shared by many NFL teams. There is nothing unusual or particularly pessimistic about their long-term direction. But the twist here is that Peterson plays a position with a historically short lifespan. In reality, they probably have a three-year window, at most, to win a Super Bowl with Peterson still at an All-Pro level.

Peterson's contract was advertised as a seven-year, $100 million deal. But as ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt pointed out for the National Football Post, it's really a three-year contract worth $40 million. After the 2013 season, the Vikings will owe Peterson no guaranteed money moving forward. At that point, Peterson will be 29 and have seven years of NFL pounding on his body. His career won't be over, but he will be bucking history if he is still a transcendent back at that point.

Peterson said the Vikings' aptitude for competitiveness in the near future was "the most important" factor in his decision-making process. I'm not sure if he truly had a choice in the matter given the Vikings' likely willingness to use the franchise tag on him. But when I asked him Thursday, Peterson expressed confidence that a Super Bowl is in reach.

"That was the most important thing," Peterson said, "knowing that, if I'm here, I'm going to be around a team, an organization, a head coach, offensively, defensively, that we're going to have the opportunity to compete for a championship. I'm pleased when I look around this locker room, just the guys that we have in here, and our head coach, coach [Leslie] Frazier, and the surrounding cast, that we're going to be able to do that, and just have faith that this organization is going to continue to bring in guys to reach that goal."

That final sentiment is the best thing the Vikings have going for them. Owner Zygi Wilf has never hesitated to devote resources toward a major free agent or a significant trade to elevate the Vikings' short-term fortunes. The sense around the post-Brett Favre Vikings is that they're regrouping. They'll need to make it quick to fully capitalize on Peterson's once-in-a-generation talent.