Adrian Peterson's suspension makes return to Vikings unlikely

MINNEAPOLIS -- Let's say you're a Minnesota Vikings fan hoping for an opportunity to see Adrian Peterson play for your favorite team again. The news that arbitrator Shyam Das denied Peterson's appeal for reinstatement from the commissioner's exempt list means you have to root for these two things:

  • A prompt agreement between the NFL and NFLPA that a neutral arbitrator, not commissioner Roger Goodell, will hear Peterson's appeal of the suspension Goodell handed down on Tuesday.

  • The arbitrator ruling in Peterson's favor, again in a prompt manner.

Short of those things happening, you should probably get ready for the dawn of a post-Peterson era in Minnesota.

The punishment the NFL handed down Tuesday was so thorough, so unflinching, that, if it holds up, it likely means Peterson's time in Minnesota is over. Under the terms of his suspension, Peterson cannot be considered for reinstatement until April 15. That's more than a month after the start of free agency -- the point at which the Vikings could make the best use of the $13 million in cap space they would gain from cutting a soon-to-be 30-year-old running back.

If the Vikings were unsure about what to do with Peterson should he be reinstated this season, the NFL essentially removed that burden from their shoulders. The league also effectively opened a path by which the team can move on from Peterson quietly, with financial justification and enough time to reconfigure the direction of its offense without him. The Vikings have done some of that work already, but if Peterson's suspension is upheld, he wouldn't be eligible for reinstatement until two weeks before the draft. The Vikings will be well into their offseason roster construction process by that point, and it makes more sense for them to chart a different path forward than it does to go out on a limb and assume he'll return.

Peterson likely will have to take a pay cut to play again, regardless of where he ends up. It's easier to imagine him making a fresh start in another city than it is to see him coming back to the Vikings under a restructured deal, on top of whatever strain this season has put on his relationship with the team.

Short of Peterson running the legal gantlet in time to get back on the field this season, his time in Minnesota appears to be nearing a surprising end. It's dizzying to think about just how quickly things have changed for Peterson, who has been one of the most brilliant talents and beloved players in team history. But without some impressive legal gymnastics, the running back won't be on the field again this season.

Stunning as it seems, his goodbye to Minnesota doesn't appear to be far off.