MINNEAPOLIS -- Later this week, the Minnesota Vikings will likely pick their next young quarterback, possibly with the No. 8 overall pick in the draft. If you're looking for a way to frame the importance of the Vikings' next move at QB, perhaps the easiest metric is to consider how many careers could be permanently changed by the choice.
General manager Rick Spielman needs to make his next call at quarterback the correct one or he could find himself out of chances to make the Vikings' decision at the position. New coach Mike Zimmer knows full well he'll be tied to a young QB -- as he said at the owners meetings -- and a position that has such a dramatic effect on wins and losses can influence the coach's job security too (just ask Zimmer's predecessor, Leslie Frazier).
But with all due respect to Spielman and Zimmer, there's one stakeholder in the Vikings' quarterback situation who could be affected the most profoundly: Adrian Peterson.
The running back turned 29 in March and is coming off his third offseason surgery in as many years. He will likely see his role change under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner, trading some carries for pass receptions that are meant to reduce the physical toll on Peterson but essentially make him even more dependent on competent quarterback play. In fact, the effect of the QB situation on Peterson seemed to be one of the things Hall of Fame defensive end Chris Doleman was most concerned about when he lamented the state of the Vikings' quarterback situation at the inaugural Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan Fest event in Cleveland on Sunday.
"Don't put him in a Barry Sanders situation," Doleman said, as if speaking to Spielman. "That's not fair, and the fan base deserves more. You've got a job. Do the job. I think too much information [before the draft] is taken in and clouds everyone's vision. Let me find a football player that is a quarterback; a football player, and I keep using that word. Let him play football."
Peterson admitted last week he is feeling "some urgency" as he heads into his eighth season and adapts to Turner's new offense, and he has every reason to be keenly interested in what the Vikings do at quarterback. In fact, people close to Peterson have invoked Sanders' name in precisely the same context Doleman used it -- as an example of a great running back never to get a chance at a Super Bowl -- and the possibility exists that by the time the Vikings move into their new stadium in 2016, Peterson either will be a much smaller part of the Vikings offense or a member of another team.
"The sad part about it is we wasted the opportunity with one of the league's premier running backs," Doleman said. "OK, let's just not even say we need to have a Peyton Manning at the quarterback position. Give me a good guy because I don't believe we need a $100 million quarterback to make this team win. I would make sure the guy I get can make all the throws, makes good football decisions, not someone who has a great IQ and can't make football decisions out there on the field. I'm looking for a football player at the quarterback position."
I wouldn't go as far as Doleman did in speaking of the Vikings' opportunity with Peterson in the past tense, but the running back probably doesn't have time for another long -- or failed -- quarterback development. He has no guaranteed money remaining on a contract scheduled to pay him eight-figure base salaries through 2017, meaning the day when the Vikings have the restructure-or-release conversation with Peterson might not be that far off.
While Peterson has said he wants to stay in Minnesota, he is watching the Vikings' moves closely and has occasionally mused about playing elsewhere if the team doesn't make progress toward a championship. The fear of Peterson following Sanders' playoff path is a valid concern, and of the many ramifications of Spielman's next quarterback move, there might be none more compelling than its ability to prevent the Sanders scenario from becoming reality for the greatest running back in Vikings history.