EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- At this time on Wednesday, there appeared to be a feasible path for Adrian Peterson to return to a football field this season, or at least enough to force the Minnesota Vikings to make a decision about his future. Peterson's attorney, Rusty Hardin, had secured a Dec. 1 date for the running back to face child abuse charges in a Texas court, beginning a trial that Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant had said typically takes about a week. If Peterson was acquitted, the thinking went, he could be back on the field this season, possibly for the Vikings' final three games.
That path might still be a viable one. It might be the one that gets Peterson back in a Vikings uniform this season. It's just a lot harder to see it happening now than it was 24 hours ago.
According to Montgomery County court records, Peterson submitted to a urinalysis exam as part of his initial court appearance on Wednesday, and admitted to a lab technician he had "smoked a little weed." That led Montgomery County prosecutors to argue on Thursday that Peterson had smoked marijuana while out of jail on a $15,000 bond for his child-abuse offense, prompting a motion for Judge Kelly Case to order Peterson be re-arrested. Results of the drug test had not been released as of Thursday afternoon, and Hardin's spokesperson, Mary Flood, said the motion to re-arrest Peterson can't be heard until after a hearing to recuse Case from the trial. But it certainly complicates things for Peterson in such a way that it's fairer than ever to wonder if he'll play for the Vikings again.
What we don't know is whether Peterson smoked marijuana while he was out of jail on bond, as prosecutors are alleging, and Hardin could try to argue there's no definitive proof that Peterson did it after his initial arrest. That could eventually clear the latest complication out of the way and make Peterson's path back to the Vikings as realistic as ever. But in the meantime, we must ask why Peterson would have admitted smoking marijuana ahead of time if he was confident it wouldn't show up in his test. And if he did smoke it after his initial arrest, we must ask why a running back who seems eager to defend himself in court -- as Hardin said on Wednesday -- would be careless enough to jeopardize his chance to get back on the field.
The development places yet another obstacle between Peterson and a return to the field, to the point where the Vikings might have to consider cutting ties with him. They're counting $2.4 million of Peterson's signing bonus against their salary cap this season, and would have to do so again next season, but they'd recoup a prorated portion of his $11.75 million salary for 2014 if they cut him this year. Considering how much the Vikings have supported Peterson, and the great pains they took to keep him as part of their organization while his child abuse case is ongoing, it's hard to see them tossing him aside without careful thought. But the chances of Peterson returning to the Vikings after this season already seemed slim, considering he will be 30 in March and earning a $12.75 million base salary next season, and Thursday's developments invite a host of new scenarios about what the NFL would do if Peterson tested positive for marijuana or if he violated the terms of his bond.
If Peterson can find his way back to the Vikings through this thicket of legal entanglements, it might be his greatest run ever. The possibility of that happening looks far more remote than it did 24 hours ago.