MINNEAPOLIS -- As he's been asked for his opinion on Adrian Peterson's future with the Minnesota Vikings, ESPN NFL analyst Bill Polian -- who built four Super Bowl teams in Buffalo and drafted Peyton Manning in Indianapolis -- hasn't been shy about voicing his feelings. And asked for a general manager's outlook on the situation, Polian didn't pull many punches.
Speaking in a conference call on Tuesday -- the day before Peterson can be reinstated from the commissioner's exempt list after seven months in limbo -- Polian pointed to the fact Peterson is still under contract for three more seasons and underlined how much leverage that gives the Vikings. Even as Peterson has said he's uneasy about returning to the Vikings, and agent Ben Dogra has said it would be in Peterson's best interests to play elsewhere, it's ultimately within the Vikings' rights to present Peterson with a simple choice: Play here or play for no one.
"I think that is a fact," Polian said. "It’s very clear-cut. It’s black and white, despite any protestations to the contrary. Secondly, if you were to be interested in trading for him, that means that the Vikings control the ability to move him. No one else. So there is no third-party interaction here. This is a question of whether or not the Vikings want to trade Adrian Peterson to someone else. So I think those two sets of facts have been lost in all of the noise that surrounds this situation almost since last January."
Peterson met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York last week, in advance of his possible reinstatement. Assuming the league allows Peterson to resume his career, more than seven months after he was first indicted for injuring his four-year-old son in an act of corporal punishment, the theater will then shift to Minnesota and whether the running back will play there again. The Vikings begin offseason workouts next Monday, and officials throughout the organization have been adamant about how much they want Peterson to return.
The running back said on Monday he wasn't sure if he would attend offseason workouts in Minnesota, adding, "I haven't even been reinstated yet," but unless the Vikings trade Peterson for draft picks in the next two weeks, he could eventually be faced with the choice that Polian outlined. The Vikings can continue to entertain offers from potential suitors, and there's been plenty of chatter in league circles about teams making a run at Peterson. But the running back's age (30), salary ($12.75 million for next season, barring a restructured deal) and his status with the league complicates any potential trade. So does the risk of the Vikings receiving a high pick for Peterson before the draft, only to watch another team jump in front of them to draft a running back.
The theory that Peterson will be dealt on draft night -- possibly to the Dallas Cowboys or Arizona Cardinals -- is a popular one around the league, and it wouldn't be a shock if the Vikings struck such a deal. But it also wouldn't be a surprise to see the Vikings keep Peterson, in a belief that he'll eventually come around, particularly if they don't receive what they deem to be fair value in a trade.
Said Polian: "I hasten to add that if the Vikings would be willing to entertain one -- and they have said just the opposite, at least from where I can tell recently -- trying to determine what’s fair compensation for him in a trade assumes that the Vikings would be willing to enter into such a transaction, not that someone else decides that it should take place.
"Compensation is [general manager] Rick Spielman’s call, and I’m not going to farm his land. The fact of the matter is that [Peterson] has a very, very fair contract, in my opinion. He’s the highest-paid back in the league, I believe. And he has a multi-year contract. So he would be ostensibly available for three more years if any team ever trades for him. To me, that mitigates whatever his age is. He’s also had a year off, which is probably for a running back a good thing. So the extent that his age is a factor if you were going to move him, I don’t think it is a factor because he’s under club control for the next three years.
"Could you make a trade for anybody on the clock? Of course you can. But the question of whether or not that player will report is another issue. And that’s unknowable at this time. As a general manager, I would be very wary, given what’s gone on up to this point, that he would report and honor that contract. I would have concerns about that if I were trying to make a trade."