Minnesota's all-time leading rusher will be in a Saints uniform this season
After the Minnesota Vikings announced they would not exercise his $18 million option for 2017 nearly two months ago, Adrian Peterson has been searching for a new team. It appears the search is over as the former face of the Vikings’ franchise will be in a different uniform this fall.
On Tuesday morning, ESPN and the NFL Network announced that Peterson has agreed to a two-year contract with the New Orleans Saints. While he was connected to other teams and took visits to both New England and Seattle, the Saints were the only team to offer the 2012 NFL MVP a contract.
"I am excited to be joining the New Orleans Saints,” Peterson said in a statement to ESPN’s Josina Anderson. "I'm really looking forward to this opportunity. Most importantly, I chose this team because it just felt right within my spirit. Additionally, my wife and family added their confirmation with the same feelings. On offense, it goes without saying that the Saints are solid behind Drew Brees. I feel like my skill set can make them even more dominant as a unit.”
Now that Peterson will be a Saint in 2017, here are some things to know:
Peterson played in just three games for Minnesota las season due to injuries. First, he tore the meniscus in his right knee in Week 2 which required surgery to repair and caused him to miss nearly three months.
He was able to return in Week 15 against Indianapolis, but he ran for just 22 yards on six carries before sustaining an abductor strain. That would end up being his final game in a Vikings uniform, as he sat out the last two.
Peterson ended the 2016 season with a career-low 72 rushing yards on 37 carries. Now 32 years old, Peterson will try to regain his 2015 form when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,485 yards. Age is not in Peterson’s favor. Since 1990, just three running backs – Ricky Williams, Emmitt Smith and Mike Anderson – have recorded 1,000 or more rushing yards in their age 32 (or older) season.
At the beginning of free agency Peterson probably believed he could get a contract that was worth more than $7 million in base salary for one year, but that’s the total he’s set to receive from the Saints. The deal technically is for two years, but essentially functions as one-year contract with an option for 2018.
For 2017, Peterson is guaranteed $3.5 million - $1 million in salary plus a signing bonus of $2.5 million. He said the contract is structured in a way that he could earn as much as $8.25 million through incentives, but his compensation of $3.5 million for 2018 is not guaranteed.
However, you want to look at it, Peterson will make considerably less than the $14 million he was paid last season. He goes from being the league’s highest-paid running back to 22nd.
3. Can Peterson handle not starting?
Ever since he was a freshman at Oklahoma, Peterson has been the most talented running back on his team. Now that he is with the Saints, that no longer is the case as Mark Ingram appears to be the clear-cut starter in New Orleans.
In 2016, Ingram rushed for 1,043 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He also caught 46 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns. Ingram is coming off the best season of his career, so that could limit the amount of touches Peterson receives in 2017.
If the Saints are winning, Peterson will likely be fine without starting, but if the team is 7-9 or worse, will that be OK for the future Hall of Famer?
4. Does Peterson fit the Saints’ offense?
During his 10 seasons in Minnesota, Peterson wasn’t the best blocking running back, but he was willing to do it. Now late in his career, Peterson may have to do more blocking for a team that loves to throw the football.
New Orleans topped the NFL in passing yards a season ago as Drew Brees threw for 5,208 yards and 37 touchdowns. Peterson may be on the field in formations and situations he’s not entirely used to, especially on third down.
Because the Saints love to pass the ball, they use their running backs as receivers out of the backfield. Peterson has decent hands, but he was never a big part of Minnesota’s passing game.
The most catches Peterson has had in a season was 43, back in 2009. If Ingram can’t stay healthy, Peterson will need to improve as a pass catcher and a blocker in the Saints’ offense.
5. Peterson’s first game with New Orleans will come against familiar faces
In a strange coincidence, the Saints will kick off their 2017 season on the road against Minnesota at U.S. Bank Stadium as the first of two “Monday Night Football” games. Once the Vikings decided to move on without Peterson, they signed former Oakland Raider Latavius Murray. There’s no doubt Peterson would love to show his former team and the fans that he still has a lot left in the tank.
Although Minnesota finished third in the NFL in total defense in 2016, the Vikings were just 20th against the run. Peterson knows this and no doubt would love to come out strong against his former team with the “Monday Night Football” spotlight only adding to his incentive to have a big game.
— 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.