MINNEAPOLIS -- At this moment, the Minnesota Vikings and Adrian Peterson remain connected to one another, via a contract that runs through 2017 and relationships that date back to 2007. And if ties are eventually severed between the Vikings and one of the most incandescent talents in their 55-year history, it won't be for lack of effort to preserve them.
Coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman flew to Houston for a four-hour meeting with Peterson last week. Peterson then traveled from Houston to New York to sit down with Vikings ownership and Spielman, for another conversation about what still has him apprehensive about returning to Minnesota. A person with knowledge of the situation said Peterson will soon meet with Vikings officials again, and there certainly have been other phone calls from Winter Park to Houston, meant to thaw whatever ice floe still exists between Peterson and the Vikings.
In fact, as I understand it, the relationship between Peterson and the team might not even be the biggest concern at this point. The running back went, in very short order, from being a beloved figure in Minnesota to a pariah, as sponsors retreated and legislators heaped scorn on the Vikings for their initial decision to play Peterson following his indictment for child injury charges. He was stung by a Minneapolis Star Tribune investigation into his past, and claimed it did not take into account Peterson's steps to clean up both his personal life and financial misappropriations in his charitable foundation. And he certainly heard the people -- fans, media members and public figures alike -- who called for the Vikings to end their relationship with him. It's important to note all of these events are down the river from Peterson's initial actions. His excessive discipline of his son initiated this, and Peterson has expressed regret for his actions in several interviews. But behind all of this is a man who never thought his life was headed this way when he used a switch to discipline his son 10 months ago. Right or wrong, he's still trying to sort out the collateral damage to his career and reputation, and trying to decide if he can repair it in the same place where it fell apart.
There has been plenty said and written about whether Peterson's issues boil down to money. While it's true Peterson is about to be a 30-year-old running back with no guaranteed money left in his contract -- and nothing says "I love you" in the NFL quite like guaranteed dollars -- I'm inclined to think it's about more than that for a few reasons. First, the Vikings have the cap space to carry Peterson's $12.75 million salary next season. Second, Peterson's last two meetings with the Vikings, and ostensibly his next one, haven't included an agent; these aren't negotiating sessions. And finally, when I asked Peterson last month if he would stay in Minnesota because the Vikings could pay him more than any other team, he said, "The fact they could pay me more than anybody else, I don’t know if that would be the case. But you know, as far as me being happy, my family being happy, it’s bigger than that."
Peterson has not asked for a trade, and as far as I know, he hasn't indicated to the Vikings he will not return to Minnesota. I don't believe he has closed that door, or issued the Vikings an ultimatum. The team remains hopeful it can bring Peterson back, that he and his family will remember how many people in the organization still support him.
Maybe that's all an elaborate ruse from the Vikings to increase Peterson's trade value before the draft. Maybe the running back will eventually decide he can't continue in Minnesota, and ask the team to give him the fresh start he believes it will grant him if he isn't happy. But it says plenty that the Vikings and Peterson are still talking, and the more time and air miles they invest in these face-to-face meetings, the more you wonder if Peterson will be back in purple and gold after all.