Rarely has a veteran player dominated an NFL draft run-up the way Adrian Peterson has. While this is the portion of the offseason typically overrun with pro days, propaganda and draft subterfuge, Peterson has remained the veteran question mark curling around the month of April.
Who is in the running for a trade? Are the Minnesota Vikings listening to anyone? What's the price for Peterson? How many Valentine's Day cards did Jerry Jones send to his supposed favorite running back?
It's the story that has driven some NFL front offices nuts (we're looking at you, Cowboys) and made some head coaches uneasy about sharing opinions (hey there, Bruce Arians).
In hopes of burning off some of that vapor and bringing clarity to a still-undecided situation, Yahoo Sports spoke to six high-level NFL sources about what is going on with Peterson – including several among front offices who have discussed a pursuit of the Vikings' running back. Here is what we learned:
As of the start of draft week, the Dallas Cowboys have NOT gotten involved
There are two viewpoints in play here.
1. The teams that Adrian Peterson wants to play for.
2. The teams willing to pay the price to acquire Adrian Peterson.
Dallas does NOT fall into that second category, a Cowboys source told Yahoo Sports. And it goes further. As it stands, Dallas has not even spoken with Minnesota regarding Peterson. Let that sink in: As of the start of draft week, the Cowboys have not spoken to Minnesota about Adrian Peterson, let alone made any trade offers. Anything stating the contrary is mythology.
Would Peterson love to play in Dallas? Yes. Is the Cowboys' brain trust (or even team owner Jerry Jones) willing to part with the draft compensation and money it would take to land Peterson? As of the beginning of draft week, the answer is an absolute no.
The Arizona Cardinals do not want to surrender their first-round pick
Peterson likes Arizona a great deal. All offseason, the Cardinals have been at the top of the heap of his preferred destinations. And if this could all be wrapped up for a second-round pick and a reworked contract, this deal would have been done over a month ago. But as of the beginning of draft week, that's not working.
Right now, the Vikings aren't moving Peterson for a second-round pick – particularly if that choice is late in the second round, which it is for the Cardinals, who have the 55th overall selection. With the third round starting at pick No. 65, the 55th pick feels a lot closer to the third round than it does the first.
Bottom line: the Cardinals' front office and coaching staff feels like they already have a really good team, particularly if quarterback Carson Palmer is 100 percent. And while Peterson could significantly upgrade that offense, Arizona feels like the price of the 24th overall pick and three years of guaranteed money for a 30-year-old running back is too steep. Could that change on draft day? Possibly.
With Georgia running back Todd Gurley looking more likely to be selected somewhere in the top-10 range, Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon may not be there at No. 24. And that's assuming the Cardinals like Gordon as a first-round pick, which there is no certainty that they do.
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But multiple scouts have said the chasm between the top two running backs (Gurley and Gordon) and the rest of the class is just as vast as the chasm between the top two quarterbacks (Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota) and the rest of that talent pool. If this is the case, trading a late first-round pick for Peterson and his likely three-year window of productivity may look more palatable.
Making all of this more complicated is that if any trade for Peterson is engineered on draft day, it's going to require some fast contract talks to make sure the financial marriage will work as well. That's a lot of variables in a tight time frame, which only makes this more complicated.
Teams with high second-round picks trigger trade buzz, but unlikely partners
There's a reason why the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a potential landing spot for Peterson, and it's not just because they made his preferred top five. It's also not because the Buccaneers would have an interest. It's because Tampa's second-round pick, 34th overall, is still high enough that it could pass muster as a centerpiece trading chip. It's also why there was some buzz about the Atlanta Falcons and Jacksonville Jaguars. But those second-round teams are difficult trade partners for a variety of reasons.
For Tampa Bay, it's likely that the 34th selection alone wouldn't be enough for a 1-for-1 trade involving Peterson. Perhaps a player or another draft pick would have to become part of the deal. And that creates more problems, particularly as the draft is rolling live. It's the same scenario for the Jaguars and their 36th overall pick.
As for Atlanta, the Falcons would have that same problem, and also have to consider salary cap implications (which is why it's no surprise the Falcons have proclaimed themselves "out" as Peterson buyers). Wideout Julio Jones is already staring at a lucrative extension, and adding $25 million to $30 million in guaranteed money for Peterson on top of quarterback Matt Ryan's megadeal pumps a large lump of cap space into three skill position players. And if the Falcons are hot for a running back, locally beloved product Gurley will likely be sitting there at the No. 8 pick. He's younger and cheaper, albeit an injury risk, too.
Vikings general manager Rick Spielman is making the call
Seemingly every high-level individual inside the Minnesota franchise has made statements about wanting Peterson to remain a Viking, including Spielman, head coach Mike Zimmer, team co-owner Mark Wilf and chief operating officer Kevin Warren. But multiple sources have been unequivocal about one point: Spielman is the guy whose feet are in cement on this issue. He wants Peterson in a Vikings uniform next season, and it's going to take a sledgehammer to remove him from that spot.
Sources have said that Spielman has the support of everyone around him on this point. History will show that any Peterson deal that is made (or not made) will fall squarely on Spielman's shoulders.
The Vikings' stance with Peterson is very much about Teddy Bridgewater
Publicly, the Vikings are sending all the signals that they believe they are a playoff team with Peterson on the roster in 2015. And there's no reason to doubt that they believe this. But retaining Peterson isn't simply about making the playoffs this season. It's about second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater solidifying as a franchise quarterback. The Vikings believe he is on his way, and that the next two seasons are especially fundamental to making sure that growth continues without major complications.
The 2015 and 2016 seasons are looked at as big steps – first toward learning what it takes to make the postseason, and then toward what it takes to win in the postseason. And trading away a player who is still one of the 10 best players in the NFL would constitute a monumental gamble in those steps – even if that player has repeatedly told the organization that he wants to be elsewhere.
For all of the offseason elbow-throwing from Peterson's father and his agent, the Vikings know this: up until now, Adrian Peterson has not stepped out publicly and shredded the franchise. Has he indicated he would be more comfortable elsewhere? Yes. But that's a far cry from tearing down all the bridges in Minneapolis. The fact remains that he could have said far worse than he has. And for the Vikings, that is an encouraging sign.
All of the acrimony that has taken place has largely been between elements of the front office and either Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, or Peterson's father, Nelson. This is important. If history has taught anything, this is when an agent earns their money – by shooting arrows for his client and then stepping in front of any volley of fire that comes back. While fans and media have been critical of Peterson, he still hasn't said much that is truly inflammatory. He can still shape his own narrative in this ordeal, and that's huge.
The Vikings could still commit to Peterson beyond 2015
Money solves a lot of NFL disputes. It heals a lot of wounds. It rekindles a lot of love. There is a basic, bottom-line aspect of Peterson's career right now.
1. He's 30 years old.
2. He likely has a prime shelf life of two or three seasons remaining.
3. He has a team that wants to pay him $13 million to play in 2015.
4. With his current contract, he assumes all the risk of losing money in 2016 and 2017.
When a running back has a situation like that, here is what goes through his head: If he reports for what is essentially a one-year, $13 million season in 2015 and gets hurt, his value beyond this season could be obliterated. The Vikings know this. And deep beneath all the jockeying about why Peterson isn't happy, that reality is a raging river. If Peterson reports to the Vikings, the moment he returns, he gets a big 2015 payday but no protection beyond that. In the winter of an NFL career, that is unsettling.
All of which brings the two sides to a singular conversation. If the Vikings want Peterson back, how much do they want him back? If they want him to be a pivotal piece shielding and facilitating the growth process of Bridgewater, what is that worth? If they believe as most teams do – that Peterson has two or three years left in the tank – what will they commit to that belief? They've already said they will commit $13 million to that in 2015. After that, Peterson is due unguaranteed salaries and bonuses totaling $15 million in 2016 and $17 million in 2017.
Under the "keep him in Minnesota" campaign, the Vikings could ease some of Peterson's injury risk in 2015 by guaranteeing some money. If he's looking for $25 million guaranteed, it's feasible to work out that amount in the next two seasons. Certainly the Vikings hold the majority of the leverage right now and don't have to guarantee money. But that's exactly the kind of thing that usually warms a player's heart – when a team says, "We see your anxiety and will meet you in the middle to find a resolution."
Guaranteeing $25 million to Peterson the next two seasons likely wouldn't make the Vikings feel like they won this scenario, and it might not make Peterson feel like he won either. But the two sides could come away feeling like it was a tie and everyone could walk away a little happier than they were at the start of this week.
If Peterson isn't traded by Saturday morning, he'll stay a Viking in 2015
Because draft picks would be in play in any trade – and because the Vikings are looking for high compensation – this has got to happen before the end of the second round. Picks lower than that are not going to get this done. So if Peterson is still on the roster when the second round concludes on Friday night, he’ll be on the roster when training camp begins, too.