The Minnesota Vikings haven't wavered with their public stance since the season ended: They want Adrian Peterson to return.
In the strongest statement yet, general manager Rick Spielman said Wednesday he expects the star running back to stay with the team after his suspension is lifted.
''I think our whole organization is on that same page,'' Spielman told reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis.
Peterson's last carry came more than five months ago, before the child-abuse case involving his young son became public in his native Texas.
''He admitted a mistake. I'm sure he's doing everything he can to not only make himself better as a football player but also a better person off the field,'' Spielman said.
The Vikings initially planned to let Peterson play until the felony charge was resolved in court, following a one-game benching for the home opener. The backlash amid league-wide problems with domestic violence was so swift and severe, though, that they relented while Commissioner Roger Goodell used his authority to place Peterson on paid leave with a special exemption.
Then with six games left in the 2014 season, soon after Peterson reached a plea deal on misdemeanor reckless assault with probation and no jail time, the league suspended him without pay through at least April 15. His appeal was rejected, prompting the NFL Players Association to file a petition in federal court to vacate the arbitrator's decision.
That's a legal long shot, so Peterson likely will need Goodell's approval to gain reinstatement this spring. Until then, the Vikings can't have any contact with him. But they've been sending him a consistently welcoming message, from players to coaches to the front office.
''Time heals things. People judge right away, but you have to look at what type of person Adrian is and look at the whole picture and a lot of the great things he has done off the field and for charities and our organization,'' Spielman said.
President and co-owner Mark Wilf said last week the Vikings would ''love to'' have Peterson again in 2015. Chief operating officer Kevin Warren chimed in the next day, diffusing any lingering doubt about the business-side desire to keep him.
''Last year was a complicated year at all levels, or various levels, but again I just want to make it very clear,'' said Warren, who attended Peterson's court hearing on the arbitration dispute two weeks ago. ''Once Adrian gets all of his items resolved with the NFL and is free to play again and rejoin our franchise, then I think it's good for Adrian, it'll be good for us, it'll be good for all of the Vikings fans, it'll be good for our community and it'd be good for the NFL.''
Two years ago, Spielman repeatedly said the Vikings had ''no intent'' to trade wide receiver Percy Harvin before dealing him. The Vikings, of course, could try to trade Peterson, so what better way to build his value by touting all of his virtues?
''You're talking about a guy that didn't take many hits on his body last year and played only one game. I expect that when Adrian Peterson comes back that he's going to come back with a point to prove to everybody,'' Spielman said.
Peterson will turn 30 next month. Even if the Vikings have established their desire to move forward with him in their backfield, the decision like so many around the league will still boil down to money.
He's due a $12.75 million salary this season, on a non-guaranteed contract through 2017, and would count $15.4 million toward the team's salary cap. That's a hefty hit for any non-quarterback, particularly for his age.
The cap is expected to rise beyond $140 million for this year, though, and the Vikings have brought a decent amount of existing space into 2015. They've never been shy about cutting established, expensive veterans to make room, but they also kept defensive end Jared Allen on the final year of his mega-contract in 2013 on a salary cap hit of more than $17 million.
Spielman declined to comment about whether or not the Vikings would ask Peterson to restructure his contract. Spielman hinted, though, they might not need to when asked if the team could justify allocating more than 10 percent of its cap to Peterson.
''It depends on who the player is and where your cap situation is. But Adrian Peterson, like I said earlier, is a pretty unique talent,'' he said.
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