EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The choice coach Mike Zimmer laid out for Adrian Peterson on Wednesday was the one the Minnesota Vikings, in so many words, have effectively been putting before their franchise player for the past several months. Zimmer, as he is wont to do, said it a little more bluntly.
"Adrian, he's really got two choices," Zimmer said Wednesday. "He can play for us, or he can not play. He's not going to play for anybody else, and that's just the way it's going to be."
None of that should be surprising to anyone who has been following the Vikings' position with Peterson over the past few months. Right before the NFL scouting combine in February, they began a multilevel effort to say they wanted Peterson back in 2015. After Peterson voiced his concerns about returning to Minnesota to ESPN in February, the Vikings maintained they weren't going to part with him. Peterson's agent, Ben Dogra, rebuffed general manager Rick Spielman's request to sit down at the NFL owners meetings, after Spielman informed him the Vikings wouldn't release Peterson. And when their best chance to turn the page -- the NFL draft -- arrived a month ago, the Vikings chose not to trade Peterson, deciding instead they would retain his rights instead of dealing him for whatever draft pick compensation they would have received.
Every time the Vikings say they're not trading Peterson, their comments seem to be met with some element of surprise. Perhaps that's because they've parted with unhappy players in the past (such as Percy Harvin), or perhaps it's because it's hard to believe the Vikings would fight so hard to keep a 30-year-old running back. But their position is rooted in several beliefs:
After keeping Peterson through his time on the commissioner's exempt list and his suspension, weathering 15 games without him, the Vikings want the payoff.
There'll be a big payoff to be had if Peterson -- who has said he wants to "shock the world" in 2015 -- returns to join Teddy Bridgewater in the backfield. The last time Peterson entered the season on that kind of mission, he ran for 2,097 yards in 2012 and effectively carried the Vikings to the playoffs.
Eventually, if Peterson is stuck with a play-here-or-don't-play choice, he'll opt to continue his career, resume his climb up the league's all-time rushing list -- and make $12.75 million while doing it. He'll have enough professional pride and tenacity to give a full effort while he's around coaches he respects and teammates he likes.
I've gotten a sense in the last month or so that Peterson's camp realized a trade wasn't going to happen, and started looking to more guaranteed money as the next-best thing if his only option were to stay in Minnesota. Peterson's statement to ESPN's Josina Anderson on Wednesday night would certainly suggest that kind of a shift, as would Dogra's comments to USA Today after the draft. Nothing says, "I love you" in the NFL quite like guaranteed cash, and at the moment, it's probably the quickest way to smooth things over.
It's possible the Vikings are underestimating Peterson's resolve to stay away from Minnesota, or how compliant he'd be upon returning, absent some infusion of guaranteed money into his contract. But it's hard to see Peterson passing up the chance to revive his career, and the worst-case scenario under the Vikings' current strategy is that they start the season with a young, improving team, hold on to Peterson's rights and try to make a go of it with a backfield that still proved serviceable last year.
Zimmer put it in stark, simple terms on Wednesday, but the Vikings have been sitting on the same message -- and a well-leveraged position -- for months. Time will tell how long both sides are comfortable in a standoff, but the Vikings seemed to be holding firm on Wednesday.