- Ben Goessling, ESPN Staff Writer
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Based on the public comments of Minnesota Vikings executives in recent weeks, it seems as though the team hopes to have Adrian Peterson back in purple next season, once he is reinstated from his NFL suspension. And as we discussed yesterday, the simplest way for the Vikings to make that happen is to leave Peterson's contract untouched: wait for him to be reinstated, pay him the $12.75 million base salary he's due in 2015 and make the roster moves necessary to field a competitive team while carrying a $15.4 million cap figure for Peterson.
That approach, of course, would leave the Vikings paying a 30-year-old running back $3 million more than any other running back in the league. And while some around the league believe that's a reasonable price to pay for a healthy, motivated Peterson -- a league source said at least one playoff team has indicated it would take on the running back's deal, as is -- the Vikings could pursue a number of restructuring options, should they seek cap relief. Several of them would still leave as much cash in Peterson's pocket as he was originally scheduled to make in 2015, though there's always a risk in approaching a player about redoing his deal.
To get a better sense of the Vikings' options, we'll return to our panel of experts, which includes ESPN NFL business analyst Andrew Brandt and Institute for Athletes president Blake Baratz, whose Minneapolis-based agency represents 38 NFL players. While Peterson currently cannot be reinstated until April 15, Brandt believes the starting point is for Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, to get a sense of what the running back's value would be on the open market.
"I’m sure Ben is somehow surveying what he could make on the open market," Brandt said. "I know people bring up the tampering thing, but there are all kinds of shades of gray here. You could simply say to teams, 'What do you think a guy like that would be worth on the open market?'"
That question becomes more complicated because Peterson isn't able to return until more than a month after the start of free agency. But with the cap rising to $140 million this year, it's probably safe to assume Peterson isn't going to have to play for much less than he was originally scheduled to make. The Vikings also aren't tight against the cap this season, meaning they might not see the benefit in asking Peterson to open up his deal.
From an agent's perspective, Baratz said, "I'm all for restructuring if it helps the team and the player gets what he deserves. That's great. But I’d have to have a real reason to restructure. If I was already planning on making $12.75 million in cash (in 2015), I'd want that or more and some security, or a very valid reason why I should take less. The valid reason is, 'There’s not going to be that cash available elsewhere,' or, 'I really want to be in Minnesota because I love it -- I love my teammates, my coaches. I want to be in Minnesota; maybe my kids are in school.' There have got to be valid reasons."
But if the Vikings were going to ask Peterson to redo his deal, they'd have a couple ways to go about it.
One idea is helped by Peterson's absence last season; because he didn't play, the Vikings could set up some reasonably-attainable benchmarks as "not likely to be earned" incentives that wouldn't count against the 2015 cap because Peterson didn't hit them in 2014. Let's say Peterson had a $9.75 million base salary in 2015 -- matching Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy for the top base salary among running backs next season -- and had $3 million in incentives to get his cash back to $12.75 million. The Vikings could guarantee part of that base salary for 2015 (Peterson currently has no guaranteed money in his deal), and if the running back hit the incentives, the $3 million charge would be debited from the Vikings' cap space in 2016.
"You’re going to be able to structure a deal that can be incentive-based, based on (him) not playing," Brandt said. "Whether he and Ben would take a deal like that is another story."
With assistant GM Rob Brzezinski managing the team's salary cap, the Vikings have typically been reluctant to mortgage future space by pushing cap dollars into the future. That means another method of restructuring Peterson's deal -- by adding a year to the contract and converting his 2015 salary into a signing bonus -- would be even more out of character for the Vikings. But if the team wanted to pursue such a path, it could replace the final three years on Peterson's deal with a four-year contract that essentially guaranteed him $20 million in exchange for lower payouts.
If Peterson got a $12 million signing bonus to go with a guaranteed base salary of $4 million and his original $250,000 workout bonus, he'd actually make $16.25 million in 2015. The cap number, though, would be just $7.25 million, and assuming another $4 million base salary and $250,000 workout bonus in 2016, the Vikings would need the same cap space to keep him around in 2016. The drawback would come in 2017, when the Vikings would still have $6 million of bonus prorations looming for a 32-year-old Peterson, possibly around the time they'd be looking to pay Teddy Bridgewater.
In the end, the Vikings might not have a compelling enough reason to approach Peterson about restructuring his deal this year, particularly if the team is concerned about the state of its relationship with the running back after a tumultuous 2014. But a restructured deal, done right, wouldn't necessarily leave Peterson with less cash in 2015 than he originally planned to make.
"It all depends on the player’s perspective," Baratz said. "If he’s scheduled to make $12.75 million, what is he going down to? Ten (million)? He's not going to five. He might go to 10, with an incentive to get to 15 or 16. Maybe he'd ask for something in return to go to 2,000 yards again. But if you’re asking to go to five, six or eight (million) -- and I'm not advising him -- I don’t see an incentive to do that."
The Vikings could pursue a number of restructuring options with Adrian Peterson's contract.