The Vikings have signed veteran cornerback and eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson to a one-year, $10 million deal, according to multiple reports. After signing defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson earlier this week, Minnesota makes another free agency splash on the defensive side of the ball on the first day of the 2021 league year.
It's an $8 million base salary for Peterson with $1 million in playing time incentives and another $1 million if he makes an All-Pro team, per the Star Tribune's Ben Goessling. Since the playing time incentives are deemed "likely to be earned" because he exceeded them last season, his cap hit is $9 million.
Peterson is no longer one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, but he's still a big addition to the Vikings' secondary. He'll step into a starting role as an outside cornerback while serving as a mentor to young corners Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, and Mike Hughes, among others. The leadership aspect of this signing shouldn't be overlooked, but how well it ages will come down to how well he plays this fall.
The No. 5 overall pick in 2011 out of LSU, Peterson spent the first ten seasons of his career with the Arizona Cardinals. He made the Pro Bowl in each of the first eight and was a First Team All-Pro in 2011, 2013, and 2015. For much of the decade, he was considered a clear top-five cornerback in the game. Peterson has 28 career interceptions and 91 pass breakups and was named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 2010s. He has never missed a game due to injury, starting 154 games and missing six in 2019 due to a suspension.
At 6'1", 203 pounds, Peterson has great size at outside corner. He was also an incredible athlete in his prime, having run a 4.31 40 at the 2011 combine. Known for his shutdown ability in man coverage, Peterson frequently shadows opposing teams' best wide receivers and has continued to do so even as he has exited the peak of his career.
The question for the Vikings is how close Peterson can be to his old elite form this season. He turns 31 in July and hasn't posted his usual numbers over the past two seasons. Peterson's PFF grade, which typically ranged between 79 and 82 in his career, was just 68.6 in 2019 and fell to 55.2 last season. Those were also the first two seasons where Peterson allowed a passer rating above 100 on throws in his coverage.
The Vikings are betting that Peterson can bounce back from a disappointing 2020 season while playing under Mike Zimmer and defensive backs coach Karl Scott in Minnesota. Zimmer has helped extend the careers of older corners in the past, including Terence Newman and Leon Hall.
Even if Peterson is good but not great, he's a big pickup for the Vikings. He and Dantzler can play on the outside, with Gladney moving into the slot. Peterson's veteran presence and leadership will also be beneficial on and off the field. He has a good relationship with fellow LSU product Justin Jefferson, who he'll now get to see in practice every day.
There's some risk in signing Peterson at this price, considering how his last two seasons have gone. $10 million isn't a small amount for a one-year deal and likely means the Vikings can only make another few minor moves in free agency. But they clearly wanted him in Minnesota, and they got him. If he can return to his 2018 form, this could be phenomenal value. It's also possible that Peterson continuing to shadow receivers hurt his numbers, and that the Vikings won't ask him to do so in 2021.
There's also the possibility that Peterson started to fall off a cliff last year. He did have three interceptions, but he committed 12 penalties and had just a 53.1 grade in coverage. Zimmer is going all in on defense this offseason, and we'll have to wait and see if it works out.
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