On Tuesday afternoon, the Minnesota Vikings announced that they will not exercise the option on running back Adrian Peterson’s contract. Now the 10-year veteran, seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro, three-time league rushing champion and 2012 NFL MVP is set to become an unrestricted free agent on March 9, the first day of the new league year.
Minnesota wasn’t expected to pick up Peterson’s $18 million option as the running back is coming off a season where he only played in three games in which he rushed for a total of 37 yards because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. Peterson, who will turn 32 on March 21, has played in just 20 of the Vikings’ 48 regular season games over the past three years.
There’s still a chance that Peterson could return to the Vikings, as noted by their official statement announcing the move.
“Adrian is an important part of the Minnesota Vikings organization,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said in the statement. “We will continue to have conversations with his representatives and leave our future options open while determining what is best for both parties moving forward.”
Peterson has said on a number of occasions that he wants to end his career with the Vikings, but he has been keeping an eye on landing spots just in case things didn’t work out.
So besides Minnesota, who are the five teams that make the most sense for Peterson?
New England Patriots
The defending Super Bowl champions will have to make a decision on LeGarrette Blount, who also is set to become a free agent. Last season, Blount led the team with 1,161 rushing yards and led the NFL with 18 touchdowns, all of them coming on the ground.
New England doesn’t believe in paying big money for free agents, so Blount may not return if he gets a larger offer somewhere else. Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has taken chances on older free agents in the past and could want Peterson to team up with James White and Dion Lewis if Blount does not return.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the uncertain future of Doug Martin after he was hit with a four-game suspension because of a failed drug test, the Buccaneers will likely be looking for some help at running back. The team could release Martin without any cap penalty and signing Peterson could make a lot of sense for a team that is trying to take the next step.
Last season, Tampa Bay ranked 24th in the NFL in rushing with just 101 yards per game. A healthy Peterson will only bolster an offense that already boasts Pro Bowl quarterback Jameis Winston and wide receiver Mike Evans, as well as tight end Cameron Brate.
Green Bay Packers
Viking fans wouldn’t want to see this, but Peterson could pull a reverse Brett Favre and head to the hated Packers. With Eddie Lacy’s lack of production in recent years and his impending free agency Green Bay has a fairly pressing need at the running back position.
Green Bay finished 20th in the league in rushing yards per game in 2016 with 106. 3 as the main ball carrier wound up being converted wide receiver Ty Montgomery. Similar to New England, the Packers typically don’t make big splashes in free agency, but they have taken chances on veterans, such as Charles Woodson and Julius Peppers.
Peterson doesn’t need to be the 1,600-yard back he was in 2015, but any semblance of a productive running game only helps quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Don’t forget Green Bay was just one more win away from playing the Super Bowl. Peterson could help the Packers get there, which is something he no doubt wants to do himself.
With 2016 leading rusher Latavius Murray becoming a free agent next month, the Raiders will need to address the running back position one way or another. The only other running backs on the Raiders roster currently are DeAndre Washington, Jalen Richard and Taiwan Jones, and none of them profile as a workhorse type of ball carrier.
Peterson could continue to bring balance to an already potent offense. Oakland finished sixth in the NFL in rushing (120.1 ypg) last season. The Raiders also are coming off of a 12-win season that was deflated at the end by an injury to Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr. Oakland is a team trending upward and could give Peterson a chance to compete for a championship.
New York Giants
A few weeks ago following Rashad Jennings’ release, Peterson posted a cryptic tweet:
While New York still has 2016 fifth-round pick Paul Perkins, who emerged as the primary back by the end of the season, he’s going to need help.
Eli Manning, 36, isn’t getting any younger and the Giants already have a potent passing game. Peterson’s presence could add another dimension to an attack that finished near the bottom (29th) in rushing with just 88.3 yards per game. Peterson clearly has interest in the Giants and general manager Jerry Reese could make the move if the price is right.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.