MINNEAPOLIS -- He arrived in a tempest, as Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman sprinted away from a draft-night press conference when assistant PR director Tom West signaled the New England Patriots were ready to make a deal.
Cordarrelle Patterson was billed as the kind of player for whom it was worth parting with four draft picks, a player who could replace the recently traded Percy Harvin as a dynamo on both offense and special teams.
"We feel this guy can do just as much as Percy can as a returner. We are excited not only what he can bring as a receiver but also what he can potentially bring as a returner as well," Spielman said on April 25, 2013, the day the Vikings drafted Patterson 29th overall. "You know, we go off the point charts and stuff, but then to get another pick in the first round and to get a player of that caliber that was still there, we felt he can be that big of a difference maker for us to be there and get it done."
For a season, Patterson appeared set to deliver on both ends of that promise. He burst onto the scene, first as a kick returner who posted 105- and 109-yard return touchdowns in his first games against the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. Then he showed magic at the line of scrimmage, scoring six touchdowns -- three rushing, three receiving -- in the final five games of the season. He appeared as explosive as Harvin, without the durability questions or the stormy off-field temperament. The Vikings believed they might have a star in the making.
But Patterson exited quietly on Monday night, headed to the Oakland Raiders on a two-year deal that can be voided after next season. He had taken to social media on Saturday night to petition the Vikings to bring him back, but his request went unheeded. His four-year run in Minnesota, at different turns brilliant and bizarre, was over.
Culpability can be spread to several areas, and there were certainly factors out of Patterson's control. But given what the Vikings gave up to get him, sending the Patriots a package that yielded two key contributors on a Super Bowl team (Jamie Collins and Logan Ryan), Patterson's tenure in Minnesota cannot be considered an unqualified success.
As a return man, Patterson was every bit as good as advertised. He led the league in return average three times, taking five kicks back for touchdowns in four seasons and earning two All-Pro selections for his role on special teams. But the Vikings did not give up that many picks for Patterson to be only a dynamic return man, and it's on offense where his tenure fell short of expectations.
It was not his choice to play for two head coaches, three offensive coordinators or six starting quarterbacks in four years, and the Vikings drafted Patterson knowing he'd be raw as a receiver. But Leslie Frazier hinted during Patterson's rookie year that the Vikings were bringing him along about as quickly as they could, and the staff grew frustrated in 2014 and 2015 with the receiver's lack of attention to detail in his routes. After the 2014 season, Greg Jennings offered to work with Patterson "just so he can watch himself on film," and the Vikings tried to connect Patterson with Michael Irvin to pick up Norv Turner's offense. Though Patterson finally worked with a route-running coach prior to the 2016 season, his exit was facilitated by the Vikings' decision not to pick up his fifth-year option.
Could things have turned out differently if Patterson had heeded the Vikings' advice sooner? Possibly. Could they also have been different if Turner had incorporated more of Patterson's strengths into his offense, rather than phasing him out while Patterson struggled as a traditional receiver? The former coordinator's use of Patterson led to some testy discussions in meetings after the 2015 season, and Patterson admitted after the 2016 season he had wanted to leave Minnesota in 2014 and 2015. But while he saw his production spike again once Pat Shurmur replaced Turner as offensive coordinator in November, Patterson ultimately was allowed to leave for a modest deal elsewhere.
His time in Minnesota produced some indelible moments -- his 109-yard return touchdown against the Packers in 2013, his tour de force in the snow in Baltimore that year, his 67-yard touchdown run in the 2014 season opener -- but Patterson ultimately had more of his successes as a kick returner than a receiver. The Vikings paid such a high price to draft him because they thought he could turn the league on its ear in both areas. There are multiple reasons why he didn't do it more often, or more consistently. But given what the Vikings gave up to get Patterson, and what it looked like he could be after his rookie year, their net return on the trade didn't put them in the black.