For Adrian Peterson, flexibility might mean as much as security in new contract

MINNEAPOLIS -- It's entirely possible that Adrian Peterson's renegotiated deal will do what general manager Rick Spielman said in a statement on Tuesday: move the running back closer to ending his career with the Minnesota Vikings.

But for Peterson, the more immediate benefit of the deal might be the power it exacts to help the running back avoid a repeat of his situation from this spring.

ESPN NFL Insider Mark Dominik tweeted out terms of the deal on Tuesday afternoon, pointing out that Peterson will get a $5 million roster bonus in March 2016. That means the Vikings will have to make an early decision on the running back, who turns 31 shortly after the start of the 2016 league year. And for Peterson, it means he'll know long before he did this year whether he'll be looking for a new home.

Agent Ben Dogra tried to get Peterson out of Minnesota this spring, saying in March he didn't think it was in Peterson's "best interest" to continue his career there. Dogra shifted his focus to a restructured contract once the Vikings held firm and kept Peterson through the draft. There was nothing forcing the Vikings to make a quick decision -- not when they held Peterson's rights and were prepared to pay him his full salary in 2015.

Now, the contract will force an earlier decision. Peterson also has a $7 million salary guarantee for 2016, which currently is only against injury and becomes guaranteed in March -- at the same point the Vikings have to decide whether they're keeping him.

"It does provide the early money, which agents always want, so teams don't leave these guys hanging throughout the offseason," said ESPN NFL Insider Andrew Brandt, who negotiated contracts for the Green Bay Packers from 1999-2008. "I always looked at an injury guarantee as an easy give, because the chances of a player not being able to play the season following injury are really small. The way I read it is, it gives him better structure, but if they want to move on from a 31-year-old running back, they can."

The running back gets $13 million guaranteed in 2015, which he effectively already had; the Vikings weren't going to release Peterson this year, not after going this far with him. Peterson's $12.75 million base salary would have been guaranteed after a preseason where the Vikings don't plan to put him on the field. Short of a catastrophic injury in training camp, the running back was going to get his money this year.

It's in about eight months when Peterson's future in Minnesota will really be clear. The deal reportedly includes an escalator and de-escalator clause, which can swing Peterson's total compensation from anywhere between $11 and $15 million next year. As much as the Vikings are eyeing a run in 2016, when they enter their new stadium, they probably weren't going to provide Peterson a full guarantee in 2016. Absent that, Peterson at least will have a chance at the open market next year if the Vikings decided to end the relationship.

"It's wrapped up for the short term," Brandt said. "But the Vikings have a decision in like eight months."

To be sure, the restructured contract puts any Peterson-related uncertainty to rest in 2015. It gives the running back what he sought this spring, and it provides the Vikings an opportunity to keep Peterson at a smaller cap figure next year. Once Peterson decided to return to the Vikings early last month, the climate seemed set for an eventual compromise on his contract. That was consummated Tuesday, and both sides had a right to sound pleased about their chances for a future together.

For Peterson, though, the deal means he won't be completely at the Vikings' mercy next spring. As harsh as the open market might be to his financial prospects at age 31, he'd at least have the flexibility he lacked this spring -- and if the Vikings plan to bring him back next year, they'll have to make their intentions clear by March. That element of the contract might be almost as valuable to Peterson as the additional security it promises.