Next week the first real mark of the NFL offseason starts as the free agency period begins. And without a doubt the biggest free agent since Peyton Manning left the Colts in 2012 hits the market, as the Minnesota Vikings chose not to pick up running back Adrian Peterson’s team option for the 2017 season. So now the question becomes not just who should pick him up, but what is the veteran running back really worth?
As we said earlier, AP is the biggest free agent to hit the open market since arguably the greatest quarterback in history (not in my opinion, just sayin’). But teams should know that there is some risk in picking up the former league MVP.
Peterson turns 32 later this month, and since the AFL-NFL merger of 1970, a back that age has rushed for 1,000 yards in a season only 10 times. Of course Peterson is no ordinary running back, as proven by his return from a torn ACL to rush for 2,097 yards the next season. But still Peterson is showing the signs of a running back that is starting to decline in his career. Since 2012 Peterson has only played 16 games in one season, and has missed multiple games in 3 of the past 4 seasons due to knee injuries.
Of course he is still one of the best backs in the league regardless of his injury-prone nature and his age which catches up with all players regardless of their greatness. And that is why there will be a number of teams that will be lining up next week at the chance to sign the best running back of the generation.
Of the teams in the NFL, there are those who are in need of a game-changing running back, whom regardless of the previously mentioned facts Adrian Peterson still a game-changer. The teams that Peterson would seemingly join would also appear to be just a player or two away from competing for a Super Bowl, and believe that maybe the former Sooner back is the missing piece to Super Bowl team.
So who does that leave? More than a few teams fit the bill for a team willing to make a run at the big time free agent.
The Raiders are obviously a legit contender moving forward and teaming Adrian Peterson with arguably the best young quarterback in football , Derek Carr, would make the Raiders the presumptive favorites not only in the AFC West but maybe in the AFC along with Tom Brady and the Patriots.
The Baltimore Ravens are another interesting option for the star running back. Peterson’s violent rushing style fits the tough physical culture in Baltimore, and the Ravens haven’t had a true star at running back since Ray Rice was released. Last year their offense finished 21st in the league and signing Peterson would give the Ravens a serious upgrade above current starter Terrance West. And having a game breaking type back to not only pound on defenses but to also lessen the load on former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco could be the key to the Ravens returning to the Super Bowl.
And if it’s not the Ravens that sign Adrian Peterson, it could be the Indianapolis Colts who finished 23rd last season in team rushing yards. And while Frank Gore did manage another 1,000 yard season on the ground, the soon-to-be 34-year old back averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last year. Replace his 263 carries with 263 from Adrian Peterson and there is little doubt that the production would be quite higher. And like the previous two teams listed, the team’s star quarterback would be ecstatic to have Peterson lessen the load of offensive burden off of their shoulders.
The next team that would be an exciting, yet legitimate team to possibly take a swing at signing the free agent would be the Houston Texans. Sure most of the problems with the offense stem from quarterback Brock Osweiler’s struggles last season, but placing Peterson behind the young quarterback might take enough pressure off of him to watch him really succeed like he did when he had a good running game in Denver and helped lead them to a Super Bowl. Now, you might be thinking that Houston already has a strong run game, after all they won their division without strong quarterback play and were 8th in the league in rushing yards. The context that is missing is how bad the AFC South was last season, and how the Texans won that division because of their top-ranked defense and not a rushing attack that wasn’t as good as their numbers show. The Texans finished 8th in total rush yards last season, but they finished 19th in yards per attempt, and adding a back who is as explosive and dynamic as Peterson could mean the Texans go from winning their division to winning their conference. After all, the classic keys to getting to the Super Bowl are a strong defense and a strong running game, and the Texas native could help with that.
The Seahawks much like the Ravens lost a great back and much of their identity when Marshawn Lynch retired and that led to the offense becoming more pass-oriented. Last season with Thomas Rawls and Christine Michael trying to replace Beast Mode the Seahawks finished 25th in rushing yards and 24th in yards per attempt. Adrian Peterson would instantly fix that, and his physical style would fit nicely with what Pete Carroll wants from his offense.
And of course another team in desperate need of running back help would be the Green Bay Packers, a team that Adrian Peterson has seen as a rival for much of his career. Last year the Packers gave up on the Eddie “Lard-Ass” Lacy project and gave wide receiver Ty Montgomery a try at running back. The wide out absolutely impressed on his way to 5.9 yards per carry, but if the Packers are serious about contending for another Super Bowl, this is a position that can be upgraded and make them arguably the favorites to win the NFC next season. The big question this writer has is would Peterson’s traditional behind the quarterback single back rushing style work in a mainly shotgun system with Aaron Rodgers at the helm? If so, the rest of the NFL should be put on instant notice that Green Bay may be the best team in football.
Of course this is all speculation at this point, and the Vikings are already talking about trying to re-sign Peterson, but if this list is a show of anything, it’s that there are more than a few teams that are just a solid running back away from being true Super Bowl contenders, and this year that free agent running back is much more than solid.