Peterson has been the engine in Minnesota’s measurable success since he was drafted in 2007. Can the Vikings make the most of his departure in 2017?
To say that the Minnesota Vikings’ 2016 season was disappointing is an understatement. The loss of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and running back Adrian Peterson to injury were devastating setbacks. The Vikings stumbled, finishing 8-8 with a lousy 2-4 divisional record. The offense did its best under the leadership of hurried replacement quarterback Sam Bradford, and running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata shared limited responsibilities out of the backfield. All this lead to a one-dimensional scoring attack which landed the Vikings a 32nd place finish in rushing yards, and 18th in passing.
The Vikings offseason retooling will be even more difficult with the loss of their team identity. The timing of Peterson’s injury late in his career hurt his negotiating power heading into this offseason. Now, Peterson is looking for the money he believes he deserves, while the Vikings look for the younger and cheaper talent they need to solidify a bright future.
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With a current salary cap of $18,349,511 dollars in allowable spending, the Vikings are right in the middle, and close to the league average of just under $22 million. This gives them room to invest in coach Mike Zimmer’s new endeavours, which will included Peterson’s replacement. The question is, can the Vikings swing this unfortunate parting of ways in their favor?
Peterson- An Aging Legend
After seven Pro Bowls (2007 - 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015), three rushing titles (2008, 2012, 2015), and a 2012 MVP, Adrian Peterson will go down as arguably the best player to ever wear a Viking jersey. After tearing both his ACL and MCL on Christmas Eve against Washington in 2011, many thought he would never return to the NFL. He shocked most of the medical and football world when he did, amassing 2097 rushing yards in 2012, coming just eight yards short of Eric Dickerson’s 1984 all time single season record.
In life when there’s something you want & need … You Gotta Go Get It! 🏈🏆 FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS VOID! I’m about that life!!! Stay tuned 😏 pic.twitter.com/VGkWEAErA4— Adrian Peterson (@AdrianPeterson) March 7, 2017
Recently, limited playing time caused by personal controversies and health-related setbacks have brought doubt into the relationship between legend and management. Having not played a full season in three years and tearing his meniscus, Peterson’s $18 million dollar option for 2017 was just too much. Following 123 games, 11,747 yards rushing, and 97 touchdowns, the legendary Peterson has carried the ball for the Vikings for the last time. His playing days in Minnesota are over, but all is not lost for the Vikings’ rise to NFC contender.
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Rebirth of a Defensive Era
It seems fair to say that defense has come back to prominence in Minnesota. The team and fanbase have rallied around an increasingly feared squad, and an identity which harkens back to the smash-mouth days of the Purple People Eaters’ brutal dominance. Three of the Vikings four Pro Bowlers from 2016 came from that side of the ball with defensive end Everson Griffen, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, and safety Harrison Smith all earning nods. They were key contributors to the Viking’s 2016 third-place ranking in yards allowed a game at 314.9. They also finished 6th overall in points allowed per game at 19.2. Even with these great numbers, improvements can now be facilitated with breathing room in the salary cap.
Latavius Murray- Good, Not Great
Newly-acquired running back Latavius Murray is no Adrian Peterson, but after a commendable early career in Oakland, his price tag of $15 million over three years was just the kind of quick deal you want to strike after your franchise player walks. While he has only surpassed a thousand yards once (2015) and gained 2,278 yards from scrimmage in his young career, he finished 2016 with 12 touchdowns, pounding the ball to paydirt close in at the goal line. The price for Murray is easy to overlook at only 1.97 percent of the current cap, and could easily wind up a one year contract if Minnesota gets cold feet.
Despite the fair stats and potential upside, it would appear his role could be limited after Zimmer expressed his thoughts that Murray was not a three down back. Currently, McKinnon and Asiata are still on the roster, and could share whatever load Zimmer thinks Murray may struggle with. More than anything, Murray provides the Vikings with one of the best blocking backs in the league— something they could use after their offensive line was graded 29 out 32 teams by Pro Football Focus. If their are still questions with this position group, taking advantage of a deep running back class will be easy in this years draft.
Are They Better in 2017?
After speedily spending $13 million on linemen in free agency, the Vikings made quick work to solve their biggest weaknesses from a year ago. Tackle Riley Reiff from Detroit and Mike Remmers from Carolina put the Vikings essentially a right guard short of Mike Zimmer’s vision for a much improved unit next season. With veterans at the tackles, it would be wise to fill their right guard vacancy from the talent available beyond the second round, when the Vikings get their first pick.
So will they be better off? Long term, it’s easy to say that the freed cap space will allow the Vikings to fill some holes. Behind a stronger offensive line that can protect Bradford and position the running game to pick up first downs, the Vikings are sure to put up more points than last year. Combined with their already fantastic defense, the Vikings may not be taking a step back at all, and could instead be looking to elevate and catch the rest of the NFC North off guard. We’ll know more after the draft is over and OTA’s have picked up, but I would venture to say that the Vikings are poised to break .500 and contend for a playoff spot in an ever-changing NFC landscape.
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