MINNEAPOLIS -- Last spring, when Adrian Peterson was still stung by the Minnesota Vikings' decision to fire Leslie Frazier and still unsure about his future with the team, he traveled to the Twin Cities for some rehab work following groin surgery. Peterson got to meet the Minnesota Vikings' new head coach, Mike Zimmer, and something about the coach quickly won him over.
"I have a thing about me, that I'm able to look people in the eyes and kind of get a feel for them," Peterson said. "He just came off as an honest person. Before then, all I was hearing was good things about him. But just looking at him, having that eye contact with him, I could see the fire in him. I could see the rugged [personality] in him as well, but also someone who's considerate as well. In the time I've been around him, that's pretty much how he is."
At this point, with Peterson still harboring concerns about returning to Minnesota following his suspension last season, Zimmer might be the man with the best shot to fix it.
The coach is prohibited from participating in meetings with players before the start of the Vikings' offseason workout program on April 20, and unless U.S. District Court Judge David Doty orders the NFL to reinstate Peterson sooner, the running back can't rejoin the league until at least April 15 anyway. But if Peterson is unsure who he can trust, and uneasy about whether people will be honest with him, Zimmer's words at least have the potential to cut through that.
"Coach Zimmer -- I love that guy, even though I only played one game for him," Peterson said on Thursday night. "Coach (Norv) Turner, Kirby (Wilson), the running backs coach, I have a lot of respect for those guys there. But it boils down to just my family and I being happy."
If Peterson decides he can't be happy in Minnesota -- and he still sounded unsure about that prospect on Thursday night -- he said he knows the Vikings won't force him to stay. Still, the team hasn't planned on cutting Peterson, and it seems unlikely they will give up without taking another shot to reconcile things at this point.
It would ultimately be Zimmer, Turner, and Wilson who Peterson deals with on a daily basis, not ownership or the front office. Perhaps Zimmer can, at the very least, convince Peterson to sign up for one year of holy terror on the field, prove to everyone what kind of player he still is and move on from there. Perhaps Peterson's concerns are too deep-seeded for that to work. But it's clear the coach earned Peterson's respect in their short time working together, and the Vikings should at least give Zimmer a chance to try.
"I would respect Adrian’s decision (if he didn't want to be here)," Zimmer said in a Pro Football Talk interview in January. "I’ll always be honest with him and up front, but I’m going to try to explain to him the reasons why I would like for him to be here. But it has to be a two-way street, and he has to get his life taken care of. But we’ll sit down and talk, and I’m a pretty good recruiter, too."
The running back said on Thursday night that he wished it only took a conversation to fix things, but "it's way deeper than that. People are saying what they need to say. In any situation, people will say whatever they need to say to heal the wounds and make things better."
There likely wouldn't be any fluff in what Peterson hears from Zimmer. It would be candid, impassioned, and direct. But Peterson found he could trust that approach from Zimmer once before. Maybe the coach can convince the running back to trust the Vikings again.