MINNEAPOLIS -- Right now, the Minnesota Vikings can only extend an olive branch to Adrian Peterson within the NFL's rules for suspended players, which prevent all but a few people in the organization from contacting the 2012 NFL MVP. That has meant key players in the effort, such as team president Mark Wilf, chief operating officer Kevin Warren, general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, have been able to offer support for Peterson only through public comments.
Peterson said Thursday night he has heard those comments, mainly from family members who have relayed them to him. But the other things he said suggest the Vikings might have to do more than that.
Anyone who has spent time around Peterson knows how high of a premium he places on loyalty. He's the type of player who will put his body and his livelihood on the line for his team, but expects that team to stand by him, as well. And whether you agree with his definition of loyalty or not, he left little room for doubt about how he felt the organization (and media in Minnesota, for that matter) treated him. He made it clear there were plenty of people in the organization who supported him. But in Peterson's view, the Vikings protected their business interests first. He understood that, but he's got to protect his own interests, too.
To be perfectly clear, the Vikings did not choose to put themselves in this bind last fall. As late as Week 1 of the season, they didn't even think they'd be in one; Peterson and his attorney, Rusty Hardin, have both said a Texas grand jury initially decided not to indict the running back for using excessive force while disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch in May.
But then the Ray Rice video was published, the grand jury decided to indict Peterson and the Vikings were quickly handed a harrowing decision: let Peterson play while facing felony charges, or put the face of their franchise on the sideline while the issue of domestic violence in the NFL dominated headlines. There's no handbook for how to deal with those situations, and there certainly wasn't going to be an easy solution available to the Vikings that left everyone happy. Their solution still enabled Peterson to collect his salary for most of the season, and kept the door open for a return in 2015.
When the Vikings reversed their original decision to let Peterson play and approached the league about putting him on the commissioner's exempt list, though, Peterson felt stung. He called it an "ambush" Thursday, and he certainly noticed how quiet the Vikings were about him from Sept. 17 -- when he was placed on the exempt list -- to the end of the season. There's no doubt Peterson's actions set the ball in motion, and he's apologized for those actions. But he felt his commitment to the Vikings had earned him more support than he'd received. There's an issue there that runs deeper than money, and it's common to more players than just Peterson; in a business where employees put their well-being on the line, public backing carries untold weight.
That's how Peterson thinks and feels, and it's why he is still uneasy about bringing his family back to Minnesota.
The unfortunate thing for the Vikings is, the league's timing gives them little recourse right now, other than to make public entreaties to Peterson and hope they land. That they can have only limited contact with him until a few weeks before the draft, at the earliest, puts them in a bind, especially when Peterson said he isn't sure the situation can be fixed with a few conversations.
The running back is under contract for the next three seasons and is scheduled to make $12.75 million in 2015. But Zimmer has said several times how the relationship between Peterson and the Vikings needs to be a two-way street and echoed those remarks in an interview Thursday with Pro Football Talk.
“If he was just dead set against it and he wasn't gonna be happy where he's at, then we'd discuss maybe something else, but I just don't see that happening," Zimmer said. "I think he's happy with the progress of where the organization is going, I think he's happy with the way Teddy [Bridgewater] is playing and the things we're trying to do to improve this football team and hopefully he's excited to be part of it."
Peterson made it clear Thursday there is still a part of him that yearns to return to Minnesota, to play with his teammates again and to get back in front of the fans. There's a chance that will still happen. He loves Zimmer, is encouraged by Bridgewater's progress and has talked at times about playing his entire career with one team. But if he does return, it will likely be because Peterson's prayers and reflections about his future have led him to reconcile with the Vikings. There might not be much else the team can do to convince him between now and April 15.