His face was synonymous with the Minnesota Vikings, splashed across the architectural drawings and promotional materials for the new stadium they will open in 2016. Now, Adrian Peterson's relationship with the team that drafted him has been permanently changed, and the question now is how much longer it will last.
The Vikings' decision to take Peterson off the field while his child abuse case plays out was a startling about-face, less than 36 hours after the team had said Peterson would play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints. There was mounting pressure from sponsors, charitable partners and politicians -- including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, who led a long legislative fight for the Vikings' new stadium and stood shoulder-to-shoulder with team owner Zygi Wilf at December's groundbreaking.
In the face of that reaction, it seemed the Vikings had two choices: stick to the decision they announced Monday and absorb the damage that came with it or step back and take Peterson off the field.
The decision to put him on the exempt list looks like the prudent one financially, however clumsily the Vikings arrived at it, but now it's fair to wonder whether Peterson has played his final game in Minnesota. He isn't due to make his first appearance in court until Oct. 8 -- his initial hearing was bumped back from Wednesday -- and even if Peterson pleads guilty to one count of reckless or negligent injury to a child, he would then be under the purview of the NFL's enhanced domestic violence policy and could face additional discipline from the league.
If the Vikings are going to keep Peterson beyond this year, they will again have to consider the finances, and much more.
He is due to make $12.75 million in 2015 as a 30-year-old running back, and the Vikings would have to count just $2.4 million of dead money against their salary cap if they were to release him.
There's plenty of rumbling in league circles that if the Vikings did part with Peterson, it would be through a trade rather than a release. While another team would have trouble absorbing Peterson's contract, that problem could be solved easily enough with an extension that cuts Peterson's overall salary, provides him some guaranteed money and spreads the cap hit out over several seasons that Peterson might never play.
The Vikings could use a similar approach to manage Peterson's crushing cap hit -- $15.4 million in 2015 -- and keep him on their roster. The question is, will they want to?
There's no doubt Vikings decision-makers are fond of Peterson. He's been a superstar who hasn't asked to be feted in the way many players of his stature are, and he's been among the team's most active players in the community. One of the greatest difficulties facing team officials this week has been reconciling their impression of Peterson -- a behemoth of a running back who maintains an enthusiasm for the game -- with the revelations brought about in his child abuse case. Some in the organization believe if a contrite Peterson were to return in a Vikings uniform, he could again be a force, for his own redemption on the field and for some positive change off it.
A court will ultimately decide whether Peterson was malicious, or simply misguided, when he disciplined his son so severely, but part of the awkwardness in this process stems from the Vikings trying to balance competitive, corporate, legal and relational interests and assign appropriate weight to each one.
The team wouldn't have tried so hard, and taken so many hits, to keep the 2012 NFL MVP under its control if it didn't have some interest in a future with Peterson, not when releasing him would have been so clean and simple. The fact that the Vikings announced their decision to take Peterson off the field early Wednesday morning, after hours of deliberations and consultations with the league, shows this was not a choice they arrived at easily. It's fair to assume more hard decisions with Peterson are on the way.