ASHBURN, Va. -- Adrian Peterson researched his next stop and came to an easy conclusion in the 2017 offseason: New Orleans would be a good spot to play. The reasons were many, starting with quarterback Drew Brees and a defense Peterson believed would be improved.
What he didn’t foresee: The Saints drafting running back Alvin Kamara. And when Kamara started to practice, it became clear to Peterson life in New Orleans might not go the way he anticipated. Kamara’s arrival altered his future.
“It was a great signing for me. I feel like the team had a great opportunity to be successful," Peterson said last month. "It worked out pretty much exactly how I thought it would, but fortunately for New Orleans, they drafted Alvin Kamara, and when he came in, I knew he was going to be the guy that played. It was still unfortunate because I thought I had a good training camp and OTA period as well, but you know Mark [Ingram] had been there for eight years ... and it wasn't going to work.”
But Peterson didn’t get to No. 10 on the NFL's all-time rushing list by accepting certain roles. That’s why, speaking on the topic Monday, he said there’s part of him that doesn’t quite get what happened.
“I still sit back and don’t understand what went wrong, but it has led me here,” said Peterson, who said he'd play despite a sprained right ankle when the Redskins visit the Saints for Monday Night Football in Week 5. “I take it in stride. I enjoy the process and the opportunity they gave me. I made some friends I’ll have for a lifetime.”
Peterson’s debut with New Orleans coincided with a season-opening game against his former team, the Minnesota Vikings. He carried the ball six times for 18 yards on that Monday night, which also led to an infamous shot: Peterson walking behind Saints coach Sean Payton on the sidelines, shouting at him; Payton turned and said something back.
Peterson said it at the time and reiterated it now: He was yelling at Payton to run the ball more.
“I’m a passionate player. That’s all I said; we need to run the ball down their throats. Pretty simple,” Peterson said. “People took it and ran with it, 'Oh my gosh, a feud!' Me and Sean Payton don’t have an issue. He understood. He understood the look I was giving to him, but I don’t hold grudges, man. I can get into a fight with somebody today and if he’s on the same page and he’s cool with me tomorrow, then we’re cool. That’s the mentality I’ve always had.”
Peterson played four games with the Saints before they traded him to Arizona. He carried the ball only 27 times for 81 yards, serving as one of three backs in a rotation. After Peterson left, Kamara’s role increased. He averaged 3.75 carries per game with Peterson on the roster and 8.75 after Peterson was traded.
It’s not as if Kamara and Peterson are the same sort of back. Kamara was a passing-game threat, though one who could help as a runner as well. Ingram was more of a volume-carry back, the role Peterson has always played. Peterson knew Ingram’s history in New Orleans meant he would still get carries.
But Kamara grabbed his attention.
“I know talent when I see it,” Peterson said. “He was a guy I knew was going to play; there’s no way he’s not going to take the field. ... Just being around him and learning his personality and seeing his work ethic. It was a no-brainer he was going to be there for a long time.”
Peterson saw traits of a former Payton running back -- with a twist.
“His toughness,” Peterson said. “Because he fits Payton’s ideal offense as far as the Reggie Bush-type running back, but he’s a physical back as well. He’ll run between the tackles. That’s one thing that stood out the most to me that I like about him.”
Anyone who has worked with or trained with Peterson -- or coached or played with him -- points to his competitiveness. They see it in him wanting to win every sprint during workouts or, in the case of the Redskins, how he'll remind them he can run some of the same stuff as third-down back Chris Thompson. But Peterson said he won't let that side turn this game into a grudge match.
“I don’t have any enemies down there,” Peterson said. “It’s a wonderful city that treated me well. I will be grabbing some beignets when I get down there. It will be good to see some of the guys I went through training camp with. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but obviously they’re doing some good things in New Orleans.”