Dec. 30: In his season-ending news conference, coach Mike Zimmer said he thought Peterson would "add value to any team, to be honest with you," and added he would "be in his corner" if Peterson returned.
Jan. 14: General manager Rick Spielman praised Peterson's work in the community, said the running back knew he made a mistake by disciplining his 4-year-old son too severely with a wooden switch, and added: "I don't know if there's a team in the NFL that wouldn't want Adrian Peterson."
Feb. 11: Speaking at a charity event, co-owner and team president Mark Wilf said Peterson was still "a Minnesota Viking, and we'd love to have him back."
Feb. 12: Newly promoted COO Kevin Warren -- whom ESPN's Adam Schefter reported was working with the league to keep Peterson off the field in 2014 -- said he would welcome Peterson's return, looked forward to winning multiple Super Bowls with the running back and envisioned attending his Hall of Fame induction ceremony one day. That came on the same day Zimmer told ESPN Radio in Dallas: "I think from the top of the organization on down, we all want Adrian back."
See a trend there, in the frequency and tone of those comments? You should.
Free agency starts in less than a month. Spielman and Zimmer are sure to be asked about Peterson at the NFL scouting combine. The Vikings might be no more than two months, give or take a few days, from when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell reinstates Peterson and returns him to the Vikings to make a decision on his future.
After remaining largely mum on the issue during the regular season, the Vikings are cranking up their efforts to reach out to him now. No one in the organization has addressed the issue of Peterson's contract -- he's scheduled to count $15.4 million against the cap in 2015 -- and the Vikings could merely be trying to put on a brave face for fans, in the event that they do part ways before next season. But for an organization that said precious little about Peterson during the 2014 season, the shift is noticeable.
It's possible the Vikings wanted to stay tight-lipped about Peterson during the season so they could keep the focus on the players they had; Peterson's court case wasn't resolved until Nov. 4, and his status for the 2014 season wasn't ultimately decided until Dec. 12. But in the process of keeping quiet on the subject, the Vikings ran the risk of appearing as though they were trying to distance themselves from their franchise player. Perhaps that's exactly what they were trying to do, at least while the season was playing out and the risk of sponsor backlash from a Peterson return was at its highest.
Now, the tenor of the issue seems to have shifted. The majority of fans in Minnesota seem to want him back and Peterson has expressed regret over his actions in a pair of extensive interviews (including one with ESPN in December). There's little question the Vikings' relationship with Peterson turned frosty during the season; they are trying their best to thaw it now.
I still think the fulcrum for Peterson's future in Minnesota is his contract. He said in December he didn't see why he should have to take a pay cut, and while the Vikings would have the cap space to carry his $15.4 million cap number next season, they would be paying a 30-year-old running back more than eight times the league average at his position. There's a risk in even approaching a player of Peterson's status about a restructured contract, but it's certainly reasonable to think the odds of succeeding in such an endeavor are better if the Vikings' relationship with Peterson is on solid ground.
Whether the Vikings will try to keep Peterson at his full cap number, redo his deal or trade him remains to be seen. But their efforts to reach out to their franchise player -- especially at a time when they're still prohibited from talking to him directly -- shouldn't be ignored. The Vikings seem to be making an intentional, coordinated move toward Peterson, with his reinstatement possibly coming in two months (or sooner). Things are about to get interesting.