NFL Nation: Mike Zimmer
Questions about Adrian Peterson consumed the better part of Mike Zimmer's hour-long media session at the NFC coaches' breakfast on Wednesday in Phoenix, as Zimmer stayed squarely on message for the groups of reporters who stopped at his table. The Vikings aren't planning to trade Peterson, Zimmer said. The running back has a contract and the team expects him to honor it, the coach added. And no, the team isn't planning to grant Peterson's wish for a fresh start simply because he's unhappy at the moment.
Zimmer took great pains to clarify his stance on Peterson, after Pro Football Talk quoted Zimmer as saying the Vikings would accommodate Peterson if he wanted to leave. "I never said I would accommodate," Zimmer said. "All I said was that I want him to want to be there, like I want all of my players to want to be there. I've been in situations before that I thought were not the best situations. I've been under contract, and so I did what I was supposed to do, and it turned out pretty good."
For his part, Peterson told ESPN last month he believed the Vikings would let him move on if he wasn't happy in Minnesota. "I understand they respect me enough that if, for whatever reason, I wasn't happy and didn't want to come back to Minnesota, they wouldn't want me to be unhappy," Peterson said. "I know I have enough respect and know those guys well enough to know that much about them."
But at the moment, the Vikings are saying they don't plan to move Peterson. And it appears that stance is rooted in a belief that when it comes time to decide between playing or sitting, Peterson won't miss a second consecutive year simply because he's unhappy being in Minnesota.
As we discussed yesterday, the Vikings do not believe Peterson would be a malcontent once he shows up in Minnesota. I tend to agree with that stance; Peterson has too much professional pride and competitive drive to loaf on the field. And for all his concerns with people outside the team's football department, his relationships with his direct supervisors -- running backs coach Kirby Wilson, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and Zimmer -- remain strong. Essentially, a big part of the Vikings' approach is their belief Peterson won't become a problem in their locker room.
"I think the relationship is still right," Zimmer said. "I'm trying not to say what he's told me, but I think both of us, we understand we have a good relationship -- him and myself, football-wise, the team, our football organization. I think he feels good about it."
Zimmer also appealed to Peterson's previous statements about playing his entire career in Minnesota, referencing a player Peterson grew up watching.
"It might be a good question to ask Emmitt Smith if he wished he would have gone to Arizona those last two years," Zimmer said.
It sounded as though the coach had used that approach to sell Peterson on staying in Minnesota, as well. And unless they're just doing an extremely thorough job of posturing, the Vikings' lack of urgency to move Peterson would seem to reflect a belief the running back will eventually come around.
"I think he's a great competitor. I know he loves being around the team -- our team and Adrian communicate a lot," Zimmer said. "I think when he comes back, he'll be great."
MINNEAPOLIS -- Last month, when he made his first extensive comments about the fractured state of his relationship with the Minnesota Vikings, and detailed his trepidation about returning to a franchise he was no longer sure he could trust, Adrian Peterson held out hope he still had enough goodwill in the organization to depart without a showdown.
"I understand they respect me enough that if, for whatever reason, I wasn't happy and didn't want to come back to Minnesota, they wouldn't want me to be unhappy," Peterson said in an interview with ESPN on Feb. 19. "I know I have enough respect and know those guys well enough to know that much about them."
Now, it appears that theory will be put to the test. The Vikings still haven't moved from their position that they want Peterson back in 2015, leading Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, to decline a dinner meeting with Rick Spielman after the Vikings general manager informed Dogra the team would not release Peterson. Dogra doubled down Monday, telling ESPN's Kevin Seifert he didn't think it was in Peterson's "best interests" to stay in Minnesota and plainly stating to USA Today's Jarrett Bell that "we want out of Minnesota."
From a football perspective, the Vikings' position is easy to understand. They have Peterson under contract until 2017, are prepared to pay him his $12.75 million base salary at age 30, believe he's in line for another transcendent told-you-so season after missing 15 games in 2014 and want to see what they can do with Peterson and Teddy Bridgewater in the same backfield. Peterson told ESPN last month he's ready to "shock the world" in 2015; he ran for 2,097 yards and won league MVP honors the last time he talked like that. After weathering a season without Peterson and the firestorm that came with his child injury case last fall, shouldn't the Vikings use their leverage to make sure they're in position to cash in on the payoff for not cutting Peterson after he was indicted last September?
Other than a $250,000 workout bonus -- which would be rendered moot if Peterson skips the team's offseason program -- the Vikings don't owe Peterson any money until the start of the regular season. They can wait him out and keep reminding him how many teammates, coaches and club officials still love him. They're banking on his emotions cooling, particularly when he's faced with the prospect of sitting out a second consecutive season and ostensibly kissing the days of eight-figure salaries goodbye. They're dealing from a place of strong leverage. Especially if they still believe Peterson will come around in the end -- and I think they do -- there's no reason to give him away for less than fair value.
To play out that position, though, the Vikings will have to be ready for things to get ugly. Dogra came out swinging on the first day of the owners meetings Monday, and if Peterson's camp is intent on forcing his exit from Minnesota, they might try to turn the relationship as frosty as possible. Coach Mike Zimmer has said he only wants Peterson back if the Vikings' interest in him is reciprocal; he might have to table that idea for now, particularly if his bosses want to call Peterson's bluff.
The Vikings' history has been to part with malcontents such as Randy Moss and Percy Harvin, but based on his résumé in Minnesota to this point, it wouldn't be prudent to lump Peterson in with those two. He's licking his wounds after a pratfall more than he's pouting (and yes, there's a difference). Nothing in his past suggests he would let unhappiness sap his effort on the field; if anything, Peterson has been at his best when he runs with an edge. The Vikings still think Peterson will soften his stance, and believe he can deliver a magnificent payoff if they wait. If they're committed to that strategy, though, they might have to see it through a few more weeks, even months, of an impasse.
That goes for their fans, too. Plenty of you have said you're tired of this ordeal, and those hoping for a quick resolution might not get it. We've got a long way to go before this becomes the kind of acrimonious split Brett Favre had with Green Bay, and there's a major difference in that the Vikings are trying to keep Peterson, not orchestrate a quiet departure. But whenever there's potential for things to get nasty between a team and its franchise player, though, fans often bear the brunt of the emotional damage.
Peterson didn't seem to think he'd have trouble getting his wishes granted if he asked to leave Minnesota. Perhaps that was naive, or perhaps the Vikings have taken a different tack than he expected. The team's position makes good strategic sense, and it could still result in a peace being brokered between the two sides. What became clear from Dogra's comments -- and while we're at it, Spielman and team president Mark Wilf saying they expect Peterson to be part of their team in 2015 -- is that both sides are digging in. There's no compromise that will get each party what it currently wants, and unless one changes its position, we could be doing this for a while.
Most significant signing: Unless you count the trade for Miami Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace -- and for the purposes of this post, we won't -- your only choices are backup quarterback Shaun Hill or one of the role players the Minnesota Vikings re-signed. In a fairly quiet first week of free agency for the Vikings, we'll go with defensive tackle Tom Johnson, who received a new three-year, $7 million deal from the team after posting 6 1/2 sacks a year ago. Johnson, who signed a one-year deal in 2014, proved to be a slippery pass-rusher in the Vikings' nickel package. Wallace is one of the fastest receivers in the NFL, and gives the Vikings the pure deep threat they had been lacking. It's up to a veteran triumvirate of coaches -- head coach Mike Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and wide receivers coach George Stewart -- to work with him after he fell out of favor in Miami.
Most significant loss: Again, unless we're counting Greg Jennings (whom the Vikings released on Saturday), there aren't many major names. The Vikings already had locked up their top pending unrestricted free agents for 2015, signing tight end Kyle Rudolph and guard Brandon Fusco to contract extensions. The biggest loss might be linebacker Jasper Brinkley, who signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys. He did a decent job against the run, and the Vikings now have to find a new middle linebacker, but they had shown only lukewarm interest in bringing Brinkley back. As for Jennings, he seemed to click with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater toward the end of the season, but probably wasn't going to be back at his $11 million cap figure for 2015. Since the sides couldn't work out a restructured deal, the Vikings could make Jarius Wright a full-time slot receiver in Jennings' absence.
Biggest surprise: The Vikings have mostly kept to their plan of shopping the bargain rack in free agency, staying out of serious contention for the top prizes on the open market. Their interest in former Buccaneers defensive end Michael Johnson was noteworthy in the sense that the Vikings appeared willing to commit significant dollars at a position where they already have two players (Everson Griffen and Brian Robison) scheduled to take up $13.9 million of cap room in 2015. But Johnson's long history with Zimmer and his status as a "street free agent" after being released by the Buccaneers still put him squarely within the Vikings' blueprint. Street free agents don't hurt the Vikings' chances at compensatory picks, and even though the team hasn't suffered any significant defections, the cumulative loss of Brinkley, fullback Jerome Felton and quarterback Christian Ponder might net the Vikings an extra selection. At the very least, the team certainly can't hurt its chances at an extra 2016 draft choice if it picks up a prominent player who has been released.
What's next: There are still needs at a number of positions, such as safety, middle linebacker and left guard, and the Vikings clearly are in the market for additional help at defensive end, after talking to Tampa Bay's Adrian Clayborn and Dallas' George Selvie, among others, in addition to Johnson. They will sift through the remaining players on the market to address some of those needs, and it wouldn't be a shock to see them pursue another cornerback. The Vikings pick 11th in the draft, and could go a number of different directions. The highest order of business, though, is figuring out the future of Adrian Peterson, with whom the Vikings are trying to mend fences before he can be reinstated next month. The Vikings remain in contact with Peterson, who told ESPN last month that he was "still uneasy" about returning to Minnesota, but general manager Rick Spielman said on Friday night that the team has no additional meetings scheduled with Peterson.
Spielman talked with the Miami Dolphins from Columbus, setting the trade for Mike Wallace in motion, then flew back to Minneapolis. When he landed, the deal was nearly ready to be put to bed. Spielman reconvened with the rest of the Vikings' front office to put the finishing touches on the trade, and set off for Manny's Steakhouse in downtown Minneapolis to join Vikings coaches for dinner with free-agent defensive end Michael Johnson. When he entered the restaurant, there were two things Spielman had yet to do on Friday: Shake Johnson's hand, and eat a meal.
And, Spielman said, "you come to a steakhouse, and it's Lent."
It remains to be seen whether Wallace will fit in Minnesota after falling out of favor in Miami, and the Vikings have to determine whether they can commit a combined $20.9 million of their cap space to Wallace and Greg Jennings. But improving the wide receiver position was a top priority for the Vikings this offseason, and they put Wallace at the top of the list of receivers they were targeting. Running backs coach Kirby Wilson knew Wallace from their time together in Pittsburgh. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner had been enticed by Wallace's lethal speed and what it could do for his vertical passing game. And Mike Zimmer, who has faced Wallace at least once every year since the receiver entered the league, couldn't forget that lightning first step.
"He’s so fast, and he’s a quick starter -- he can really get going fast," Zimmer said in the entryway of the steakhouse. "We want to have a lot of speed offensively, and we feel like that will help a lot. With Charles Johnson, it opens up more things for the runners, it opens up more things for the tight end. And with Teddy [Bridgewater], you know, he plays so damn accurate, it opens things up.”
Adrian Peterson is never far from the Vikings' minds these days, and it was impossible not to wonder whether the running back's apprehension about returning to Minnesota would be offset by the appeal of another weapon in the Vikings' offense. But with or without Peterson, the Vikings' offense is morphing into something different. It's going to be built around Bridgewater, and the Vikings want to surround him with a fleet of dangerous receivers. That group could still take on a different look -- Jennings turns 32 in September, Cordarrelle Patterson is entering a pivotal season and Spielman might use the No. 11 pick in the upcoming draft for more help. But the Vikings were tied for the seventh-fewest completions of at least 20 yards last season and lacked what Wallace represents: A receiver with afterburners.
"Norv's system is based on speed and having a vertical threat," Spielman said. "By adding him, and CJ and Cordarrelle and [the] Jarius Wrights of the world, those guys are able to stretch the field. We have a young quarterback who is just going to continue to get better, and you saw that improvement out of him as we went through the season and now you add another weapon to the offensive side. We're pretty excited about where we're headed."
And so Spielman headed home after a day that included more time zones than meals. The Vikings have two receivers who have gone to zero Pro Bowls after being given a combined $47.8 million in guaranteed money in 2013. They have a former first-round pick who is trying to prove he can be a star, a promising prospect signed off a practice squad, a tight end with a big contract and a history of injuries -- and a former MVP running back whose future is an open question. It's a vibrant, and possibly combustible, mix. But after a year in which Bridgewater made do with an offense in flux, the Vikings want to place as many weapons at his disposal as possible. They put another one in their stockpile on Friday.
"You saw how much more comfortable Teddy was, especially down the stretch [last season]," Spielman said. "And they start developing that chemistry. Now, getting another big play potential threat, as our young guys continue to develop, that's kind of the direction we wanted to go."
Coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman flew to Houston for a four-hour meeting with Peterson last week. Peterson then traveled from Houston to New York to sit down with Vikings ownership and Spielman, for another conversation about what still has him apprehensive about returning to Minnesota. A person with knowledge of the situation said Peterson will soon meet with Vikings officials again, and there certainly have been other phone calls from Winter Park to Houston, meant to thaw whatever ice floe still exists between Peterson and the Vikings.
There has been plenty said and written about whether Peterson's issues boil down to money. While it's true Peterson is about to be a 30-year-old running back with no guaranteed money left in his contract -- and nothing says "I love you" in the NFL quite like guaranteed dollars -- I'm inclined to think it's about more than that for a few reasons. First, the Vikings have the cap space to carry Peterson's $12.75 million salary next season. Second, Peterson's last two meetings with the Vikings, and ostensibly his next one, haven't included an agent; these aren't negotiating sessions. And finally, when I asked Peterson last month if he would stay in Minnesota because the Vikings could pay him more than any other team, he said, "The fact they could pay me more than anybody else, I don’t know if that would be the case. But you know, as far as me being happy, my family being happy, it’s bigger than that."
Peterson has not asked for a trade, and as far as I know, he hasn't indicated to the Vikings he will not return to Minnesota. I don't believe he has closed that door, or issued the Vikings an ultimatum. The team remains hopeful it can bring Peterson back, that he and his family will remember how many people in the organization still support him.
Maybe that's all an elaborate ruse from the Vikings to increase Peterson's trade value before the draft. Maybe the running back will eventually decide he can't continue in Minnesota, and ask the team to give him the fresh start he believes it will grant him if he isn't happy. But it says plenty that the Vikings and Peterson are still talking, and the more time and air miles they invest in these face-to-face meetings, the more you wonder if Peterson will be back in purple and gold after all.
There won't be any agents, business executives, sponsors or reporters at Peterson's home outside Houston in a meeting that a league source said Peterson agreed to "because of his respect for Zimmer." When the coach and general manager Rick Spielman arrive for the sit-down, Zimmer will get a chance to make his pitch to Peterson. It's probably not a stretch to call it the Vikings' best shot to keep him.
If Zimmer is driving the conversation, though, we shouldn't expect him to beg for Peterson's return. The coach has made it clear there needs to be reciprocal interest, and while he'll undoubtedly try to sell Adrian and Ashley Peterson on the upside of being in Minnesota -- both on and off the field -- he won't have any desire to bring back a malcontent. The Vikings begged Brett Favre to return in 2010, with disastrous results, and Peterson would see through such an approach anyway.
"I wish it was that simple as a conversation, but it’s not, it’s way deeper than that," Peterson told ESPN last month. "I’ve prayed about it a lot. It's definitely not that easy, just to have the conversation. People are saying what they need to say. In any situation, people will say whatever they need to say to heal the wounds and make things better. I discovered that a long time ago, and I’ve seen it in the past year."
Rather, if Peterson tells the Vikings he doesn't want to be back, the team can begin to make other plans. The Vikings haven't been able to sit in a room with the running back for nearly six months, and Wednesday's meeting will help them get an unfiltered sense for Peterson's mindset. There's no doubt the Vikings want Peterson back, and they're in a strong enough cap situation to pay him his full $12.75 million salary next season. But Peterson said last month that the decision comes down to more than who can pay him the most.
"As far as me being happy, my family being happy, it's bigger than [money]," he said.
There's no doubt Peterson's situation put the Vikings in a bind last fall, and we can debate whether the Vikings have anything for which to apologize. In the end, though, the only thing that matters is what's going on inside Peterson's head, and Wednesday is the Vikings' best chance to figure that out before the new league year starts Tuesday.
The meeting outside Houston is a productive step in that process -- it strips away the layers between Peterson and the Vikings' football operation -- but the Vikings' best move is to let Zimmer talk. Both men value directness, and it's that quality about Zimmer that helped win over Peterson in the first place. If things go well Wednesday, the Vikings will leave knowing more about what Peterson wants. Maybe they'll even leave with a commitment from the running back to return next season. Getting Zimmer and Peterson face to face, though, is the best development in this saga for the Vikings in quite some time.
Before Spielman hired Mike Zimmer in January 2014, he studied 13 different backgrounds for potential head coaches. The GM routinely charts in-game decisions, and went through a litany of scenarios with Zimmer before his first games as a head coach last fall. Spielman, Zimmer, offensive coordinator Norv Turner and quarterbacks coach Scott Turner crisscrossed the country last spring, interviewing passers who could be the Vikings' next QB of the future. If the Vikings' front office is ever going to be accused of falling short in any one area, preparedness will not be it.
There's a difference between accumulating data and using it to shape a significant number of decisions, however. And in a league that probably still ranks among the least data-dependent of the four major U.S. sports, the Vikings ranked among the 12 teams listed as analytics "skeptics" in ESPN's Great Analytics Rankings, which attempted to measure how heavily all 122 North American major pro teams use analytics. As ESPN's Kevin Seifert wrote, the Vikings don't have a full-time employee devoted to analytics, and it's unclear how much the team relies on data findings in its decisions. Coach Mike Zimmer leaned on the traditional side of fourth-down decisions, going for it just three times before the fourth quarter in 2014.
The Vikings made their skepticism about Pro Football Focus clear last season, particularly when the name of left tackle Matt Kalil came up, but that stemmed more from a belief that outside sources don't have all the information to thoroughly evaluate the team than it did from an inherent aversion to new schools of thought. When I covered the team for the St. Paul Pioneer Press, I talked with Spielman about his approach to analytics, and the methods the Vikings use to evaluate draft picks. Essentially, the team takes all of its combine data, in-house ratings and psychological evaluations of players and feeds them into a giant database, looking for precedents. If the Vikings can find a player with similar attributes who has since been successful in the NFL, they might be more willing to consider a prospect whose measurables would otherwise invite skepticism. But for Spielman and Zimmer, the tape still takes precedent.
When I've talked with Spielman about the Vikings' analytics use, he hasn't seemed particularly interested in standing out, so he's likely happy the team is lumped with more than one-third of the league in one of the middle quartiles of our survey. The Vikings certainly use analytics as a tool, but to say they have a deep reliance on them would probably be stretching it.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Observed and heard at the NFL combine on Friday:
Don’t blame Slocum: If you want to blame former Green Bay Packers special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum for the botched onside kick recovery in the NFC Championship Game loss to the Seattle Seahawks, you should know this: According to a person familiar with Slocum’s instructions on the sideline, one of the last things he told his hands team before the play was this: "If your name isn't Jordy Nelson or Micah Hyde, don't try to field the ball." Of course, we all know that Brandon Bostick, who was released earlier this week, tried to catch it and failed, allowing the Seahawks to recover. Two weeks later Slocum, whose special teams units were problematic all season and allowed the Seahawks to run a fake field goal for a touchdown, was fired.
Zimmer on Bostick: After the Minnesota Vikings claimed Bostick off waivers, coach Mike Zimmer told reporters who cover his team that Bostick will add depth and competition at the tight end position. And then Zimmer joked, "We'll try not to put him on the onside kick team."
Meet the linebackers: A day after coach Mike McCarthy more or less said inside linebacker is the Packers' greatest need this offseason, two of the top inside linebackers in the draft -- Missississppi State's Benardrick McKinney and Miami's Denzel Perryman -- both confirmed they have formal interviews scheduled with the Packers during the combine. The Packers began their overhaul at the position by releasing veteran Brad Jones on Friday.
Big things for Janis: For those fans who wondered why receiver Jeff Janis couldn't get on the field much last year as a rookie, know this: McCarthy still has high hopes for the former seventh-round pick who spent most of last season on the inactive list. Janis was active for only three games and played just 15 snaps on offense. He caught two passes for 16 yards. "I thought probably after Thanksgiving, I thought Jeff really picked it up," McCarthy said. "He was more comfortable, and so I look for him to take a step. He's got to play with extension. That's the one thing he has to do a better job of, but you can see it on the scout team, and at the end of the year he was running some really good routes. Really good routes."
"I have a thing about me, that I'm able to look people in the eyes and kind of get a feel for them," Peterson said. "He just came off as an honest person. Before then, all I was hearing was good things about him. But just looking at him, having that eye contact with him, I could see the fire in him. I could see the rugged [personality] in him as well, but also someone who's considerate as well. In the time I've been around him, that's pretty much how he is."
The coach is prohibited from participating in meetings with players before the start of the Vikings' offseason workout program on April 20, and unless U.S. District Court Judge David Doty orders the NFL to reinstate Peterson sooner, the running back can't rejoin the league until at least April 15 anyway. But if Peterson is unsure who he can trust, and uneasy about whether people will be honest with him, Zimmer's words at least have the potential to cut through that.
"Coach Zimmer -- I love that guy, even though I only played one game for him," Peterson said on Thursday night. "Coach (Norv) Turner, Kirby (Wilson), the running backs coach, I have a lot of respect for those guys there. But it boils down to just my family and I being happy."
If Peterson decides he can't be happy in Minnesota -- and he still sounded unsure about that prospect on Thursday night -- he said he knows the Vikings won't force him to stay. Still, the team hasn't planned on cutting Peterson, and it seems unlikely they will give up without taking another shot to reconcile things at this point.
It would ultimately be Zimmer, Turner, and Wilson who Peterson deals with on a daily basis, not ownership or the front office. Perhaps Zimmer can, at the very least, convince Peterson to sign up for one year of holy terror on the field, prove to everyone what kind of player he still is and move on from there. Perhaps Peterson's concerns are too deep-seeded for that to work. But it's clear the coach earned Peterson's respect in their short time working together, and the Vikings should at least give Zimmer a chance to try.
"I would respect Adrian’s decision (if he didn't want to be here)," Zimmer said in a Pro Football Talk interview in January. "I’ll always be honest with him and up front, but I’m going to try to explain to him the reasons why I would like for him to be here. But it has to be a two-way street, and he has to get his life taken care of. But we’ll sit down and talk, and I’m a pretty good recruiter, too."
The running back said on Thursday night that he wished it only took a conversation to fix things, but "it's way deeper than that. People are saying what they need to say. In any situation, people will say whatever they need to say to heal the wounds and make things better."
There likely wouldn't be any fluff in what Peterson hears from Zimmer. It would be candid, impassioned, and direct. But Peterson found he could trust that approach from Zimmer once before. Maybe the coach can convince the running back to trust the Vikings again.
MINNEAPOLIS -- Right now, the Minnesota Vikings can only extend an olive branch to Adrian Peterson within the NFL's rules for suspended players, which prevent all but a few people in the organization from contacting the 2012 NFL MVP. That has meant key players in the effort, such as team president Mark Wilf, chief operating officer Kevin Warren, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, have been able to offer support for Peterson only through public comments.
Peterson said Thursday night he has heard those comments, mainly from family members who have relayed them to him. But the other things he said suggest the Vikings might have to do more than that.
Anyone who has spent time around Peterson knows how high of a premium he places on loyalty. He's the type of player who will put his body and his livelihood on the line for his team, but expects that team to stand by him, as well. And whether you agree with his definition of loyalty or not, he left little room for doubt about how he felt the organization (and media in Minnesota, for that matter) treated him. He made it clear there were plenty of people in the organization who supported him. But in Peterson's view, the Vikings protected their business interests first. He understood that, but he's got to protect his own interests, too.
To be perfectly clear, the Vikings did not choose to put themselves in this bind last fall. As late as Week 1 of the season, they didn't even think they'd be in one; Peterson and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have both said a Texas grand jury initially decided not to indict the running back for using excessive force while disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch in May.
But then the Ray Rice video was published, the grand jury decided to indict Peterson and the Vikings were quickly handed a harrowing decision: let Peterson play while facing felony charges, or put the face of their franchise on the sideline while the issue of domestic violence in the NFL dominated headlines. There's no handbook for how to deal with those situations, and there certainly wasn't going to be an easy solution available to the Vikings that left everyone happy. Their solution still enabled Peterson to collect his salary for most of the season, and kept the door open for a return in 2015.
That's how Peterson thinks and feels, and it's why he is still uneasy about bringing his family back to Minnesota.
The unfortunate thing for the Vikings is, the league's timing gives them little recourse right now, other than to make public entreaties to Peterson and hope they land. That they can have only limited contact with him until a few weeks before the draft, at the earliest, puts them in a bind, especially when Peterson said he isn't sure the situation can be fixed with a few conversations.
The running back is under contract for the next three seasons and is scheduled to make $12.75 million in 2015. But Zimmer has said several times how the relationship between Peterson and the Vikings needs to be a two-way street and echoed those remarks in an interview Thursday with Pro Football Talk.
“If he was just dead set against it and he wasn't gonna be happy where he's at, then we'd discuss maybe something else, but I just don't see that happening," Zimmer said. "I think he's happy with the progress of where the organization is going, I think he's happy with the way Teddy [Bridgewater] is playing and the things we're trying to do to improve this football team and hopefully he's excited to be part of it."
Peterson made it clear Thursday there is still a part of him that yearns to return to Minnesota, to play with his teammates again and to get back in front of the fans. There's a chance that will still happen. He loves Zimmer, is encouraged by Bridgewater's progress and has talked at times about playing his entire career with one team. But if he does return, it will likely be because Peterson's prayers and reflections about his future have led him to reconcile with the Vikings. There might not be much else the team can do to convince him between now and April 15.
Zimmer made a couple interesting comments about Patterson to reporters in Indianapolis, especially if they're taken in conjunction with how he praised Teddy Bridgewater for not getting caught up in individual honors.
Of Patterson, Zimmer said, "I think one of the biggest problems Cordarrelle had last year was, he was going to have this breakout year and he was going to be this. I think all those things maybe affected him a little bit, and he thought how easy this game would be and how easy it was going to go. And it didn’t quite go that way. So let’s just keep our heads down and work and not worry about whatever.
“I know he likes the limelight and all that stuff, but if you’re not playing, that stuff’s going to fade away fast.”
There was plenty of talk about Patterson before his second season, and his performance against the St. Louis Rams in Week 1 only enhanced it. The absence of Adrian Peterson certainly led defenses to focus more on Patterson, but his problems mastering the basics of the receiver position had more to do with his diminished role in the offense than what defenses were doing to him. By the end of the season, he was staring up at Charles Johnson and Adam Thielen on the Vikings' receiver depth chart, and from what Zimmer said on Thursday morning, Patterson seems to be doing the right things early this offseason. We'll see if those things lead to concrete results in 2015.
"I haven’t changed any from my support of Adrian since he got suspended,” Zimmer told reporters in Indianapolis. “It’s still important for me that Adrian does all the things he’s supposed to do, as far as the things mandated by the league, but also him becoming a better person in that aspect. All the other things, in my opinion, he’s a pretty darn good person. As I’ve said before, we all make mistakes and he made one and he’s admitted to it and we go from there. I’m hopeful that he’s back with us."
As we discussed earlier this week, the Vikings have the space to keep Peterson at his $15.4 million cap number next season, and could create even more cap room by releasing or restructuring the contracts of a few veterans. General manager Rick Spielman has talked about the depth of the running back class in the draft, and if something happened where Peterson was not going to be back with the Vikings next season, the team would have options to bring in another young ballcarrier.
But if the Vikings plan to limit their free agent spending to a few key pieces, as they did last year, they should be able to handle the uncertainty about Peterson's return date, and even bring him back without touching his contract. If the Vikings start spending in free agency like they're going to have an extra $13 million in cap space from Peterson not being on the roster, we'll know something's up. For now, though, the team continues to send signals that it plans to have Peterson in the fold.
Spielman's two interview sessions came on the heels of comments from Vikings president Mark Wilf and COO Kevin Warren in support of Peterson's return. The general manager sounded more definitive about Peterson on Wednesday than he did during his postseason media session in January, saying "we want Adrian Peterson back with the Minnesota Vikings" and adding he expects the running back will return "with a point to prove to everybody."
Peterson talked in December about the possibility of a "fresh start" with another team, but also sounded open to returning to the Vikings, where he knew coaches and teammates supported him. The Vikings were mostly silent about Peterson during the season, once he was placed on the commissioner's exempt list, but I thought something Spielman said on Wednesday was particularly instructive.
"I think as you go through this this, time heals things," Spielman said. "People judge right away, but you have to look at what type of person Adrian is and look at the whole picture and a lot of the great things he has done off the field and for charities and our organization.”
Unless his suspension is shortened -- by U.S. District Court Judge David Doty's decision or the NFL's own concession -- Peterson will be at least seven months removed from his arrest by the time he is reinstated. He will have missed 15 games in the prime of his career, been fined more than $4 million and lost millions more in endorsements. Peterson has been punished, and consequently, support for Peterson's return is less provocative than it was last September.
The Vikings were undoubtedly affected by the backlash they got when they first announced on Sept. 15 that Peterson would be allowed to play, and that backlash could explain their relative silence on Peterson from September until the end of the season. "Last year was a complicated year, at various levels," Warren said last week. "But once Adrian gets all of his items resolved with the NFL, is free to play again and rejoin our franchise, I think it's good for Adrian. It'd be good for us, it'd be good for all the Vikings fans, it'd be good for our community and it'd be good for the NFL."
There's considerably less risk in supporting Peterson now, and the Vikings' public outreach to Peterson will likely continue on Thursday, when coach Mike Zimmer speaks at the combine. The Vikings will have to hope time has also healed whatever resentment Peterson might have felt about the team's position last season, but there's no question they're wading through calmer waters as they move toward the running back now.
"He made a mistake; he admitted a mistake," Spielman said on Wednesday. "I’m sure he’s doing everything he can to not only make himself better as a football player but also a better person off the field, and that’s the type of person Adrian is. He’s a suspended player right now, and then we’ll see where it goes from there."
It always seemed reasonable to think linebacker was on that list. Speaking at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis on Wednesday, Spielman effectively said as much.
"That's an area that we'll look at," Spielman said. "We have a couple guys that are unrestricted free agents. We'll weigh in on that position to see. We're very excited about where Anthony Barr is, but we want to continue to build in that area."
The Vikings could have two new starters next to Barr, depending on what they do with Chad Greenway. The 32-year-old said on Tuesday he is recovered from a strained MCL he suffered in the Vikings' Week 16 loss to the Miami Dolphins, and Zimmer said at the end of the season he believed Greenway could still start in his 10th year. But Greenway is due to make $7.1 million in 2015, and the Vikings are widely expected to approach Greenway about restructuring his deal. Gerald Hodges played well while filling in for an injured Greenway in four games this season, and could push for the starting spot.
There could also be turnover at middle linebacker, where Jasper Brinkley is a free agent. Brinkley, who turns 30 in July, did a decent job against the run last season, but has never been on the field much in passing situations, and the Vikings could look for a long-term answer in the middle of their defense.
"I'm just getting back into working out, starting back on my lower body," he said. "It feels good. I'd been taking some time off, but I have been testing it a little bit."
The 32-year-old linebacker said he hasn't done much running yet, but added that wasn't because of his knee. As most players are, Greenway is in the early stages of his offseason workout program.
Greenway restructured his 2014 contract, giving back $1 million in exchange for a guarantee of $5.5 million on his base salary. It's widely expected the Vikings will ask him to restructure the final year of his deal, which calls for him to make $7.1 million and count $8.8 million against the cap. But the Vikings haven't approached Greenway or his agent, Marvin Demoff, about redoing his deal yet, he said.
The linebacker said at the end of the season he was open to reworking his deal if it helped keep him in Minnesota for the final year of his contract, and Greenway reiterated on Tuesday that he's still willing to do that. But for the moment, he said, "We're still under contract. We'll just see what they say."
Greenway played in the Dolphins game two days after his father, Alan, died following a 2 1/2-year battle with leukemia. A month after Alan Greenway's death, his mother, Janice, died suddenly at age 79 in Mitchell, South Dakota. "Her heart just stopped," Chad Greenway said of his grandmother.
The former Pro Bowler missed four games in 2014, snapping a 90-game starting streak and ending the season on the sideline. That, coupled with the losses of his father and grandmother, has made the past five months one of the toughest stretches in Greenway's life. As the linebacker said on KFAN, "For the first time in my career, I was happy the year was over."
He's hoping for another chance to suit up with the Vikings and play out the final year of his contract. Coach Mike Zimmer, who praised Greenway's leadership at the end of the season, said Greenway can still be an effective starter at age 32. And considering the fact that Greenway appears willing to work with the Vikings on his contract, it's possible he'll get that chance.
As reporters, we're not in the business of rooting for the teams we cover. That said, it's easy to want good things for certain players, and Greenway -- a tireless worker who's deeply involved in the community, helpful to his teammates and approachable to reporters -- is one of those players. He's hoping to get another season with the team that drafted him in 2006, but he's played long enough to know the Vikings will make their decision irrespective of any attachments they might have to Greenway. They need to figure out their future at a couple of linebacker spots, and Gerald Hodges played well enough to push for a full-time starting spot in 2015. But after a trying year in 2014, it'd be nice to see Greenway get one more year with the team that drafted him.