Inside the Minnesota Vikings' organization, there never seemed much doubt about the future of All-Pro tailback Adrian Peterson. From owner Zygi Wilf on down, team officials made clear that under no circumstances would Peterson leave when his rookie contract expired after this season. He is a once-in-a-generation player who has been the franchise's most consistent face the past five years. Peterson, meanwhile, appeared totally at ease with the situation from the start.
The only questions were the nature and timing of his return. Would he play out the final year of his current deal and hit the negotiating table this winter? What if the Vikings tagged him their franchise player? Would the team's uncertain future in Minnesota play any role in its financial commitment?
We got the answers Saturday afternoon in decisive fashion, when the Vikings extended Peterson's contract through the 2017 season. The deal is worth between $96 million and $100 million, depending on escalators, and includes a total of $36 million in guarantees. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, $32 million of the $36 million is guaranteed for skill and injury. The other $4 million is guaranteed for injury only, meaning the Vikings wouldn't have to pay Peterson that final $4 million if he is ever released for performance reasons.
Regardless, Peterson is now the NFL's highest-paid running back and one of the top-paid non-quarterbacks in the league. The agreement was announced as the Vikings boarded their team charter to San Diego, where they will open the season Sunday against the Chargers -- the team, by the way, that allowed Peterson's NFL-record 296 yards in a 2007 game.
Some further thoughts:
The Vikings clearly were unconcerned about the risks of a huge second contract for a superstar running back. We discussed that issue this summer, noting the relatively short career spans for running backs and the recent examples of big-time runners whose production dipped dramatically after signing their second contracts. Peterson has tallied 1,334 touches in his career, including kickoff returns, but has missed only three of a possible 64 games and has had no off-field issues that would compromise his eligibility to play with the league.
At 26, it's reasonable to expect at least two or three more elite seasons left in Peterson's career. According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, he will receive $40 million, including all of the guaranteed portion of the deal, in the first three years. Three more seasons of an All-Pro running back for a total of $40 million? The Vikings would be thrilled with that return on their investment.
Most NFL observers consider Peterson and the Tennessee Titans' Chris Johnson as the co-best running backs in the league, but Peterson's deal exceeds the one Johnson signed last month. Johnson's extension averaged $13.3 million in new money and included $30 million in guarantees. Peterson's will average nearly $15 million per season in new money over the life of the deal, in addition to the $36 million guaranteed. But Peterson was always in position to get a better contract because his current contract was already paying him $10.72 million. Johnson was due to make less than $3 million this season.
Peterson's contract came five days after linebacker Chad Greenway signed a five-year, $41 million extension with $20 million in guarantees. So in the course of a week, Wilf has committed at least $56 million and up to $141 million in potential compensation to two of his best players. Say what you want about Wilf and his pursuit of public money to build a new stadium, but recognize this: He has never let finances get in the way of fielding a competitive team.
Peterson was to count $12.7 million against the Vikings' salary cap this season. You would assume the new contract will lower that number, but it might be a few days before we know those details.