Bill Belichick's respect for Adrian Peterson led to free-agent visit

The Patriots will see Adrian Peterson on Sunday when they visit the Saints. Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots aggressively scoured the free-agent running back market this offseason, which led them to Adrian Peterson. Here’s why.

“We brought him in here this spring. I have a lot of respect for him, I have a lot of respect for the way he plays, I have a lot of respect for how hard he works and how important the game is to him,” coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday. “I’d say all those are things I admire about Adrian.”

The Patriots ultimately went in a different direction in their search for LeGarrette Blount's replacement, signing restricted free-agent Mike Gillislee to go along with unrestricted free-agent signing Rex Burkhead, and now they will get an up-close view of what they passed up on when they visit the New Orleans Saints on Sunday (CBS, 1 p.m. ET).

Peterson had a quiet debut in the Saints’ loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. While he did start, he played just nine snaps and gained 18 yards on six carries. A sideline shot captured by ESPN’s cameras -- in which Peterson followed head coach Sean Payton on the sideline -- ignited some discussion on social media on whether Peterson was trying to get himself more involved in the game (Peterson later explained he was suggesting an inside running play).

As was projected when he signed with the Saints, Peterson is part of a committee with rookie Alvin Kamara (31 snaps in the opener) and Mark Ingram (26 snaps).

Belichick said it will be important for Patriots defenders to identify which running backs are in the game because of their different styles.

Specific to Peterson, the Patriots must prepare for his power.

“Obviously a great player -- big, strong runner who does an excellent job of really pressing the line of scrimmage before he gets his cut and gets downhill into the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said. “A guy like this can take the ball anywhere. He can go inside. He can go outside. He can cut it all the way back. He does a great job in space, does a great job with the stiff-arm, running through arm tackles, and really does a good job of taking minimal opportunities and trying to make them into big plays.”