MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings' talks about a restructured contract for running back Adrian Peterson aren't likely to pick up steam until around the NFL scouting combine in the beginning of March, and it remains possible the team will work out a deal to keep him in Minnesota in 2017.
Peterson has said publicly he wants to return to the Vikings next season, and those close to him believe the same thing. He turns 32 in March and ran for only 72 yards in three games of a season during which he was recovering from a torn meniscus. Still, he could return next season if he finds common ground with the Vikings as they pursue a reworked deal in lieu of an option that would pay Peterson $18 million (including a $6 million roster bonus).
Still, this being a business, it's entirely possible Peterson and the Vikings will part ways at the start of the league year, March 9, rather than work out a deal to keep him in Minnesota. Peterson acknowledged as much during an appearance on ESPN's First Take last month, when he said, "I see myself in purple," before adding, "A lot has to take place," and naming the New York Giants, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans as teams he has considered as possibilities should he not be back with the Vikings next season.
The list of possibilities for Peterson is probably longer than those three teams, but if he did become a free agent, it would take the right set of circumstances -- a team close to winning, a role at running back and possibly a personal connection -- for him to land there. Here's a look at some of the places Peterson could end up, some more realistic than others.
New York Giants
Running back situation: Rashad Jennings, 31, led the Giants with 593 rushing yards, and Paul Perkins, 22, had 456. Jennings was released on Tuesday, and though Perkins showed promise, he didn't score a touchdown last season.
Projected cap space: $31.03 million
Could it work? The Giants went 11-5 with the league's 29th-ranked running game and the second-shortest average drive in the league. The idea of playing in a backfield with Eli Manning and in an offense with Odell Beckham Jr. could be intriguing to Peterson, though a team that threw nearly 600 times last season isn't about to become a ball-control outfit. Still, there could be a fit here if the Giants think Peterson can help put them over the top.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Running back situation: Jacquizz Rodgers led the team in rushing with 560 yards, but he's a free agent. Doug Martin and his $7 million cap hit could also be on the way out after a violation for performance-enhancing drugs last season. Charles Sims, who played only seven games in 2016, is in the final year of his contract.
Projected cap space: $65.65 million
Could it work? It might have been no accident that Peterson mentioned the Bucs (remember in 2015 when his agent, Ben Dogra, posed in a Tampa Bay hat next to Peterson's jersey during his standoff with the Vikings?). They've got the cap space to pay him plenty of money, though an up-and-coming young team might look to stick with a back like Rodgers as it builds around quarterback Jameis Winston. Should the Buccaneers have interest, though, they've got the wherewithal to get Peterson.
Running back situation: Lamar Miller ran for 1,073 yards on 268 carries, and Alfred Blue chipped in another 420 yards. Both are under contract, with Miller, 25, carrying a cap hit of $6.5 million.
Projected cap space: $23.42 million
Could it work? It's no secret in league circles how much Peterson would be attracted to the idea of playing in Houston, where he lives in the offseason and opened a gym last year. The Texans went to the AFC divisional playoffs last season, and they'd certainly be an attractive destination for Peterson. Given Miller's cap number and his role, though, this one probably only works if Peterson is willing to accept a smaller part in the offense. The tradeoff -- a chance to join a contending team in his adopted hometown -- could be worth it.
Running back situation: Ezekiel Elliott is the man here, having led the league with 1,631 yards as a rookie. The NFL's investigation into domestic-violence allegations still looms over Elliott, but as long as he stays out of long-term trouble, he'll be a fixture in Dallas for a long time.
Projected cap space: minus-$13.02 million
Could it work? The Cowboys need to get their salary structure in order (though they'll get cap relief from Tony Romo), and Peterson would need to fill in behind Elliott. Still, as ESPN's Adam Schefter reported, Peterson has been connected to the Cowboys in NFL circles. He grew up a fan of the team, has an admirer in Jerry Jones and could join the pantheon of players who win a Super Bowl in Dallas. If the Cowboys were interested, that possibility might be enough to get Peterson to accept a secondary role. Making this happen, though, would require quite a few gymnastics.
Running back situation: C.J. Anderson is coming off a knee injury. Devontae Booker ran for 612 yards last season, but the Broncos could be looking for a back who can remove pressure from their dicey quarterback situation.
Projected cap space: $31.49 million
Could it work? This is a sneaky possibility for Peterson if he decides to test the market. There's still an elite defense that carried the Broncos to a championship a season ago, and John Elway has shown he'll be bold if he thinks a veteran can help put the Broncos over the top. Denver is often mentioned as a landing spot for Romo, but Peterson could make sense here, too, particularly if the Broncos sell him on the idea he might be able to get them back to the Super Bowl.
Running back situation: The Patriots have used a committee of LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis and James White, but Blount is a free agent at age 30. White starred in the Super Bowl, but probably isn't the kind of back who could carry the ball 300 times as Blount did.
Projected cap space: $63.42 million
Could it work? It would be the most Patriots move ever, wouldn't it, to sign Peterson for a year, coax another productive season out of him next to Tom Brady and get back to another Super Bowl? They've done it with enough veterans that it's plausible with Peterson, and while he'd have to go there knowing the offense runs through Brady, he still talks in glowing terms about his time with Brett Favre. The chance to play with another legend and thrive in the Patriots' atmosphere for a year could be appealing if New England had interest.
Running back situation: The Packers have to decide if they want to give Eddie Lacy another chance, make Ty Montgomery into their feature back or add another piece to the group after releasing James Starks.
Projected cap space: $41.02 million
Could it work? It's hard to see it, given how rarely the Packers dip into the free-agent market and how many questions they have to answer on their offensive line, where T.J. Lang is a free agent. They're also not a team that would offer Peterson a boatload of carries. But general manager Ted Thompson's occasional forays into free agency have been largely successful, including players such as Charles Woodson, Julius Peppers and Jared Cook. Would the Packers kick the tires on Peterson if he reached the market? It would offer Peterson the chance to do what Favre did: play against the Vikings as a member of a division rival. However implausible it is, Vikings fans have no doubt already considered the scenario. It's at this point we should mention, of course, where Super Bowl LII will be played next February: Minneapolis.