New Vikings cornerback and key free agent acquisition Patrick Peterson spoke to Twin Cities reporters for the first time on Monday, shortly after officially signing his one-year contract to play in Minnesota in 2021. The former Arizona Cardinals All-Pro and potential future Hall of Famer touched on what appealed to him about the Vikings, how much he feels he has left in the tank, and more.
Here are five quick takeaways from Peterson's introductory presser.
The deal came together quickly
The Vikings knew they wanted to pursue a veteran cornerback in free agency, but they didn't think they'd have a shot at landing Peterson. He was someone they had evaluated and discussed, but based on his expected price, they weren't seriously expecting to be able to land his services.
Last Wednesday, GM Rick Spielman was in the Atlanta airport, getting ready to come back to Minnesota after attending the University of Georgia's pro day. As he was sitting in the Delta Sky Club, Spielman got a call from Joel Segal, Peterson's agent, asking if the Vikings were interested in his client.
"Next thing I know, I talk to [Executive VP of Football Operations] Rob Brzezinski — ‘Can we figure this out to make it work from a cap planning standpoint? But most importantly, we need to get this player on our football team.’" Spielman said. "Joel and Rob were able to make that work; I think this thing came together in about two hours. I talked to Patrick on the phone, I had Coach Zim talk to Patrick on the phone, and I sent him our recruiting video."
Peterson was in the Bahamas on vacation with his family, but he put that on pause to hear the Vikings' recruiting pitch and quickly decided it was a good fit.
"By the time I landed from Atlanta that night, this thing was done and agreed to," Spielman said.
Mike Zimmer's pedigree with defensive backs was important
When considering where he would sign in free agency, one thing that stuck out to Peterson about the Vikings was Zimmer and his reputation with defensive backs. More specifically, his track record of helping corners stay productive and fresh well into their 30s. Peterson turns 31 this summer and is hoping to have a bounce-back season after struggling in 2020 and missing six games due to a suspension the year before that.
He thinks Zimmer can be the coach to help him achieve that.
"Just looking at a couple teams, I think Coach Zim himself stood out to me," Peterson said. "His reputation speaks for itself and the things that he's able to do with the defense, not only with the defense but with defensive backs, speaking of Deion Sanders, Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Johnathan Joseph, the list goes on, and he's able to help further those guys' careers. And if you look at all those guys' careers, those guys played 13-14-plus years, so Coach Zim definitely has something he's giving those guys to not only help [take] their career into new heights but also help their longevity as well. I just thought the culture around here, the atmosphere around here was everything for me. It definitely checked off all the boxes."
Zimmer coached Sanders in Dallas from age 28 through age 32. He helped resurrect Newman's career from age 34 to 39. And while he coached Hall and Joseph in their 20s, he helped prepare them to play deep into their 30s as well. If Zimmer can work with Peterson on some technique adjustments that can help him account for his athleticism no longer being what it once was, the veteran could still have some great years ahead of him.
Peterson will play cornerback — and wants to play for a while
There had been some speculation since the Vikings signed Peterson that he could potentially move to safety. Minnesota has a hole at the safety spot opposite Harrison Smith, and Peterson's instincts and ball skills suggest he could make that transition if he wanted to. Charles Woodson famously extended his career by moving from cornerback to safety in his 30s.
When asked about that possibility on Monday, Peterson quickly shut it down.
"I feel that I still have a good position, as far as being [able] to make plays at the cornerback position, so I know I can still play at a high level," Peterson said. "My position will be cornerback for sure.”
In addition to clarifying that he'll be a corner in 2021, Peterson made it clear that he thinks he has a lot left in the tank. That's the big question mark surrounding his career right now after a 2020 season that was well below his usual standards and had observers wondering if he's lost a step.
"My dreams and aspirations were to play 16 years," Peterson said as he prepares to enter his 11th season in the NFL. "I haven't had any major injuries throughout my career, so I feel unbelievable. I feel great. I'm in shape. My mind feels young, my body feels young, and I just want to continue to grind. Whenever you lose that drive, that focus or that desire of not wanting to work out, of not wanting to go to work, that's when I've decided that will be the call-it point for me. At this moment right now I feel unbelievably great. I just want to continue playing at a high level."
Peterson said the key for him is continuing to work and train his body around the clock, because at this age, it's much harder to bounce back if you take an extended period of time off. He trusts the regimen he's had throughout his career and points to the lack of injuries as evidence that it's working.
"As long as I find a way to stick to the script and fall back on my fundamentals, I know I’ll be OK," Peterson said. "So now having a fresh start, new scenery, fresh air, I think it’s going to be great for me."
He's going to be a great mentor for the Vikings' young corners
This signing wasn't just about adding Peterson as a starting cornerback and what he can do on the field. Obviously, that's a huge part of it. But it was also about the intangible value of what he'll bring to Minnesota's cornerback room and the defense and team as a whole.
The Vikings sorely needed a veteran leader for that group. Jeff Gladney and Mike Hughes are 24. Cameron Dantzler and Harrison Hand turn 23 this year. It's hard to portray just how valuable Peterson's experience, knowledge, and mentorship will be to those young players.
When Peterson came into the league with the Cardinals in 2011, one of the players who took him under his wing and showed him the ropes was wide receiver (and Minnesota native) Larry Fitzgerald. Peterson described Fitzgerald as a big brother who helped him in numerous ways. Now he's at the point of his career where he wants to be that figure for others.
"I know we have some young guys in that room that earned a lot of playing time last year," Peterson said. "I won't mind showing them the ropes like I alluded to earlier with Larry showing me how to be a pro, showing these guys how to be a pro, how to study, how to take their game to the next level."
The Vikings have lacked a veteran leader figure at corner since Terence Newman retired following the 2017 season. Xavier Rhodes and Trae Waynes were good players, but they couldn't quite replace what Newman provided in that role. In Peterson, the Vikings have that again, and that's extremely valuable.
Peterson loves what he sees from the Vikings' "loaded" roster
It wasn't just Zimmer and his reputation that sold Peterson on Minnesota. He wants to win football games, having made the playoffs in just two of his ten seasons with the Cardinals, and he thinks that can happen with the Vikings. He looked around the roster and saw a lot of big-time players on both sides of the ball, including several that he already has relationships with.
"Captain Kirk had I believe his best year throwing the ball [in 2020], you have Justin Jefferson on the outside, Adam [Thielen] who is a good golf buddy of mine, Dalvin, you got weapons all over the place and that's just on the offensive side of the ball. You got Anthony Barr, Harrison [Smith], myself, D-Hunter, I know I'm forgetting some people, but we're loaded. If we can come in here and get all 53 guys on the same page, we have a chance to do something pretty special."
Peterson knows Thielen and has played in Pro Bowls with Harrison Smith and other members of the defense. He has a relationship with Hughes. He's known Jefferson since Jefferson was 10 or 11 years old and Peterson was playing with his older brother at LSU. All of the pieces lined up to make this the right fit.
Now it's time to get going and make something special happen this fall.
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