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PHOENIX -- This is not a drill. They're not joking. The Minnesota Vikings really do want Adrian Peterson back on their team in 2015. Believing they have their best team of this decade, they won't allow a conflicted superstar, or his increasingly vocal agent, to dislodge their position.
The Vikings hold almost all the leverage in this standoff; Peterson is under contract through 2017, and the threat of a holdout is hollow given his 15-game absence last season. The only tool agent Ben Dogra has is to make a public spectacle, a strategy that continued forming Monday when he said he didn't think it was in Peterson's "best interests" to play in Minnesota. But after speaking with a number of people involved in the situation here at the NFL owners meetings, both on and off the record, it seems clear that the Vikings are dug in and prepared to wait out a public assault.
"The bottom line is that he has represented us on and off the field, and we're getting ready for the 2015 season," co-owner and team president Mark Wilf said. "We fully expect him to join his teammates and be part of what we feel is going to be a great season ahead. That's our view and our feeling as ownership."
General manager Rick Spielman tried to meet with Dogra here this week. That kind of outreach is for peacemaking, not arranging a trade. Dogra rejected the request. Speaking Monday, before Dogra's statement, Spielman said: "Adrian is a member of our football team. He is under contract. We are focused on the 2015 season and expect Adrian to be a part of that. Our whole focus is getting ready for the season with Adrian."
It would be fair to note that two years ago, Spielman made similar comments about receiver Percy Harvin -- right up until he traded him to the Seattle Seahawks on the eve of free agency. In this case, however, the Vikings' carefully constructed public statements are not designed to maximize Peterson's trade value, but instead to provide a consistent message. For lack of a better phrase, they're sitting on him. A true conflict requires anger on both sides; this episode is a concoction Peterson and/or his circle created amid a life-changing ordeal.
Think about it from the Vikings' perspective. The franchise has missed the playoffs in seven of the Wilfs' 10 seasons of ownership, including four of the past five. Team officials are eager to see results from a draft haul that includes seven first-round picks in the past three years. Spielman is in his third year as general manager and 10th as the team's top personnel figure. Coach Mike Zimmer is entering his second season. In this league, the clock is always running.
Picture Peterson in a Norv Turner offense with Teddy Bridgewater, Mike Wallace and Cordarrelle Patterson. It has playoff potential. On the other hand, a promising rookie feature back offers nothing but another season of hope for a franchise that is primed for something more than that.
"We as ownership are very excited about the 2015 season," Wilf said. "Probably as excited as we've been about any team since we purchased the team [in 2005]."
Earlier this month, Peterson traveled to New Jersey to visit with team ownership. Wilf confirmed he participated in the meeting but would not reveal details. Regardless, it's clear the Wilfs aren't feeling any concerns Peterson might have expressed.
"I've said what I've said about Adrian, and we've expressed to Adrian how we feel," Wilf said.
This isn't to say the Vikings would turn down all trade offers. It would, however, need to be the kind of franchise-altering deal that ESPN analyst Bill Polian outlined Monday on "NFL Live": two first-round draft choices. Suffice it to say, that sort of bounty is highly unlikely for a 30-year-old running back who would face severe NFL penalties for any future off-field mistakes.
The Vikings have long since forgiven Peterson's guilty plea connected to injuries his son suffered. "He served his suspension," Spielman said. "It's been through the court system. At some point, you move on."
Now, the franchise wants a return on its patience. The Vikings are confident in their position, dubious about Peterson's tolerance for missing more time and convinced that, ultimately, he would return rather than miss any installments of a $12.75 million base salary. It's not a ruse and, this time, I don't think I've fallen for much spin. Sometimes, the truth is too obvious to ignore.