The Costs of Moving Adrian Peterson


Yesterday Adrian Peterson mentioned to ESPN’s SVP and Russillo that the thought had crossed his mind about finishing his career with the Cowboys, the team he grew up watching and cheering for as a young man. Is it possible?

While Peterson is under contract to the Minnesota Vikings through 2017, there is minimal financial reasons for the Vikings to keep Peterson. Peterson’s cap charge in 2014 is $14.4 million and removing him from the roster frees up $9.6 million in cap space and eliminates a cash payment of $12 million due to Peterson.

While Peterson is the best running back in the NFL his salary numbers are pretty outrageous for the position. His cap charge is $4.4 million higher than our estimated second highest cap charge at the position.  His cash salary is $3.625 million higher.  With the lessening impact of the position through the last five years it is an investment few teams might be willing to make.

For as great as Peterson was in 2012 when he won the NFL MVP award the best the Vikings could muster was a Wildcard berth and first round exit in the playoffs. This season Minnesota has struggled and is in contention for a top draft pick. They have no Quarterback, having gone through Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel, and Josh Freeman at various points of the season, and their star defensive player, DE Jared Allen, is about to leave in free agency. Most likely this is a team prepared to rebuild and rebuilding often does not include a 29 year old running back making $14 million a year over the next few seasons.

Though cutting Peterson should not be an option (there is no benefit in that for Minnesota short or long term)since the team salary cap is not a major issue, trading him should be a consideration. The $9.6 million in cap that is freed up in 2014 and $15.4 million freed up in 2015 can go towards signing multiple players to replenish a barren roster and the draft picks can be used to rebuild an organization from the ground up.

For an acquiring team Peterson would come over with non-guaranteed salaries and cap charges of $12, $13, $15, and $16 million from 2014 through 2017 (remember the Vikings would keep the prorated portion of his contract currently factored into his cap hits). Obviously these numbers are very high which would limit the market to two types of teams. One would be those with a great deal of cap room to simply absorb the yearly charges, increase their payroll and have no dead money in the contract. This would be a team like the Browns (and how funny would that be if they essentially flipped Trent Richardson for Adrian Peterson). The other is a team that just plans for the short term and sees a window of opportunity. That is where the Cowboys could come into play.

Dallas is a team only concerned with the now. Their salary cap planning has been very shortsighted and player friendly. They live year to year and continue to defer costs to the future to help compete in the present. Peterson would fit right in the mold of contract that the Cowboys would associate themselves with.

The Cowboys cap problems are well known but it would be easy to take Peterson for one year in a trade. They could simply reduce his $12 million salary to about the minimum, add a voidable season to the contract, and prorate the difference. This is what Dallas has done for years with their players. Reducing his salary to $1 million and giving him the rest in the form of a signing bonus would reduce the cap charge from $12 million to $3.2 million. His cap charge the next year would be $15.2 million with $8.8 million in dead money if released, but for a team only concerned with the now that probably does not matter. So the move is one that could be made by the Cowboys.

While this would not replenish the Hershel Walker heist from all those years ago I would think a first round pick would need to be involved for the Vikings to make the deal and be able to spin it as a positive. If Dallas was to make such a move I think they would need to consider a philosophical change to the way they approach offense. For years Tony Romo has been over 80% of the Cowboys offense. They like to throw the football. That number has to come down to a normal play selection if you are bringing in Peterson.  Peterson’s value is nowhere near his price tag if the Cowboys run him 12-15 times a game.

So maybe it’s all just a pipe dream for all involved here, but the Vikings are going to be making changes this year and Peterson may not fit into those changes if the right price is offered from another franchise. Maybe come February we’ll get a better idea of what the Vikings are thinking regarding him.