How badly does Adrian Peterson want to continue playing football? Would he really turn his back on upwards of $13 million?
The Vikings continue to dig in their heels when it comes to Peterson's future, with coach Mike Zimmer declaring Wednesday that "[Peterson's] really got two choices: He can either play for us, or he can not play. He's not going to play for anybody else, and that's just the way it's going to be."
So, barring a seismic shift—like, say, Jerry Jones deciding that the Cowboys need a star running back after all—Peterson faces a crossroads, with retirement an increasingly realistic proposition. According to a report this week from CBSSports' Jason La Canfora, Peterson has "ruminated on the possibility of retirement more than once" and " is uncomfortable with the idea of returning" to the Vikings.
Peterson skipped this week's voluntary OTAs, as he has occasionally done throughout his career. This absence cost him a $250,000 workout bonus, however, and there has been no indication as of yet that the 30-year-old running back will attend Minnesota's next round of OTAs (which starts June 2) or mandatory minicamp (June 16-18). The Vikings could choose to fine Peterson if he skips the latter.
The real cutoff date, though, lands on Week 1 of the 2015 season. If at that point Peterson is an active member of Minnesota's roster, his entire $12.75 million salary for the year becomes guaranteed; should he retire or hold out in an attempt to force a trade, the Vikings owe him no further guaranteed money on the deal he signed in 2012.
Zimmer, as the Vikings have done throughout this off-season, essentially called Peterson's bluff again Wednesday. The retirement chatter, the rumored trade demands, several reports stating Peterson would rejoin the team if they tacked more guaranteed money onto his contract ... nothing has moved the needle within the front office.
Nor should it, really. Minnesota holds all the cards, even if Peterson's potential $12.75 million salary for 2015 looks rather outlandish compared to other running backs around the league. The Vikings could cut Peterson, thereby clearing $45 million or so off their books over the next three seasons and putting to rest what's been a headache-inducing situation. But that would allow Peterson to sign elsewhere, with the Vikings receiving no compensation.
Worse yet, such an outcome could be seen as the team caving to Peterson's alleged demands. Keep in mind that the Vikings paid Peterson more than $7 million last season not to play—Peterson continued to collect his prorated weekly salary of $691,000 while on the commissioner's exempt list; only once he was handed an official suspension in mid-November did he see any financial penalty.
Had Jones's Cowboys or the Cardinals or some other team come calling prior to the draft with a reasonable trade offer, the Vikings likely would have considered moving Peterson and washing their hands of the entire problem. Instead, they've entrenched themselves on the opposite side of the ledger, committed to getting Peterson back on the field in a Vikings uniform.
With Peterson in the backfield alongside quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, Minnesota would be viewed as a legitimate playoff contender this coming season. Beyond any elements of pride or stubbornness that have caused Zimmer and co. to throw down the gauntlet, the possibility of 2015 success is a factor that cannot be overlooked. While Peterson's game has become a sideshow to his disheartening off-field story, he remains one of the league's elite talents at running back. A season off, for a player with 2,000-plus carries, may be reinvigorating.
"Adrian made a mistake," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said last month. "He's paid the price for that mistake, but I think if our organization didn't believe in Adrian Peterson he probably still wouldn't be here today and that's from our ownership on down.
"We believe in Adrian Peterson, but also know that we're a pretty good football team with Adrian Peterson in our backfield as well."
The Vikings' rhetoric has been consistent throughout the past few months: They want Peterson to play for them again, and they have no intention of helping him find a way out.
What happens from here is up to Peterson.