Earlier this week, the Minnesota Vikings declined to pick up an $18 million dollar option for Adrian Peterson. That means the three-time rushing champion is now on the open market.
Many pundits have already put together a list of “logical destinations” for Peterson. Oakland and Green Bay are the two teams, in particular, that come to many people’s minds, as both could use a boost to their respective running games. But assuming Peterson does actually leave the Vikings, which isn’t a guarantee, there is one team that has casually been thrown into the mix but ultimately discarded as an “unlikely match” that I believe is a great fit for both sides.
That team is Dallas. Admittedly, there is little sense in me trying to read Jerry Jones’ mind. But what I will say is that if I was Jones, I would be first in line to sign Adrian Peterson. Here are four reasons why:
1) Talk of Peterson’s Decline is Exaggerated
Everyone is saying that Peterson is decline. Where’s the evidence? Sure, he got injured last year, and perhaps that is a legitimate reason in of itself to pass on the soon-to-be thirty-two year-old back. But if you go back only two years, to 2015, Peterson was the NFL’s rushing champion. I’d also toss aside his three-game sample from last season, in which he ran for a measly 72 yards on 37 carries. He was running behind one of the worst offensive lines in football. Again, Peterson’s age certainly means he’s not a sure-bet to succeed. There’s little evidence to suggest that he is actually in decline, though.
2) He’ll be cheap
Everybody is selling Adrian Peterson stock. It’s clear the Vikings no longer think he’s worth a lot of money, and it seems to be pretty clear that other teams no longer believe he can be a primary back as well. For as little as $5 million for one year, as some reports indicate could be Peterson’s value in the free agent market, the 2015 rushing champion is a great buy-low candidate.
3) Ezekiel Elliott may be suspended for part of next season
But why might Dallas, in particular, need Peterson? For one thing, the NFL’s investigation into Ezekiel Elliott’s domestic violence incident is still ongoing. Insiders such as Adam Schefter have not discounted the possibility that Elliott will be suspended for part of the 2017 season, leaving an obvious void at running back for the Cowboys. Reserves Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar are likely to depart in free agency, which means that Dallas might not have another viable option outside of Alfred Morris. Adding Peterson, though, could certainly stabilize their offense, especially if Elliott is gone for upwards of eight games.
4) Regardless, signing Peterson could be very beneficial for Dallas in the long-term
But even if Elliott is not suspended for any part of next season, signing Peterson still makes sense. Here is something I’d be a tad worried about if I was a Cowboys fan: Dallas ran the 21-year-old Elliott into the ground last year. He was the only player in the league with over 300 rushing attempts last season (322), and combined with his usage in the passing game and as a blocker, Elliott essentially didn’t come off the field. Sure, it paid off for Dallas last year, but you know what happens to running backs who have that sort of load on a yearly basis? They burn out.
Let me take you through some recent examples. In 2012, Arian Foster led the NFL with 351 carries. That was his second 300 carry season for the Texans in three years, and it was paying off for Houston…at the time. However, Foster only appeared in one more Pro Bowl over the next four seasons, and now he’s retired. In addition, let’s go back to Chris Johnson’s brilliant 2009 season, where he led the NFL that year with 358 carries. But he could handle that burden, right? After all, it was only his second season. Yet from that point on, Johnson steadily declined. Like Foster, he has only appeared in one Pro Bowl after his 2,000 yard season. But the best example, however, is Larry Johnson. He set an NFL record with 416 carries during his 1,700+ yard season for Kansas City in 2006. Three years and not a single 1,000 yard rushing season later, he was essentially out of the league.
The Cowboys don’t have to worry about Elliott breaking down right now, but if they expect their prized running back to be valuable, say, five years from now, they can’t expect to use him quite like they did last year. And that’s why Peterson would fit in Dallas’ offense. Obviously Elliott will still be the primary back, but instead of using him for well over 350 carries throughout the regular and postseason, Jason Garrett can let another rushing champion carry the load for 10-15 carries a game. By following this strategy, signing Peterson could keep Elliott fresher for a playoff run; and based on the history of over-used running backs, it may even prolong Zeke’s value as an elite running back.
The question then becomes whether it makes sense for Peterson to go to the Cowboys. And the answer, unequivocally, is yes. Let’s face it: Assuming Peterson avoids re-signing with Minnesota, which would be dumb on his part because the Vikings’ offensive line is in shambles, AP isn’t walking into any other team’s training camp as their starting running back. Plus, no team is going to pay Peterson starter-caliber money anyway.
Yet here is the main reason why Peterson should sign with Dallas. Let’s run through his resume very quickly. Rookie of the year? Check. Rushing champion? Check, check, check. Pro Bowls? Got a bunch of those. League MVP? Done that, too. Super Bowl?….Hmmm….Closest he’s come is the 2009 NFC Championship game, and in fairness to Peterson, even though he fumbled twice in that game, the Vikings should’ve won if not for Brett Favre’s horrible late-game interception. Nonetheless, a Super Bowl appearance, let alone a Super Bowl title, is the one thing lacking in Peterson’s already Canton-bound career.
If he wants to win, given that he has nothing else left to prove, then Dallas is his best option among teams who could use his services. Peterson will obviously need to concede the head backfield duties to Elliott, but he’s likely to see a reduction in his typical workload regardless of where he signs. Plus, he could capitalize on a potential Elliott suspension and thrive running behind the best offensive line in football. As mentioned, that’s also one of the many reasons why it makes sense for Dallas to sign the three-time rushing champion. Plus, it’s not like the Cowboys would lose anything by taking a flier on the 2015 rushing champion in a discount market. Combined with Peterson’s roots in the region, the move could be a win-win for both parties, especially if AP caps off his splendid career with a Super Bowl title.