Even if Adrian Peterson had a quality season in 2016, league sources said the Minnesota Vikings would have been highly unlikely to pay him his scheduled $18 million next season. Now, with the rest of his season in doubt after a slow start and surgery Thursday to repair a meniscus injury, it's virtually certain the team won't retain him at that salary, and his future with the Vikings will hinge on their ability to renegotiate his contract.
No running back will earn more than Peterson's $7.75 million salary in 2016, or count more against the salary cap (Peterson carries a $12 million cap charge). In 2017, those totals rise to $18 million in total cash and cap, complete outliers for the running back position, and especially for a runner who will be coming off a serious injury at age 32.
Peterson is due a $6 million roster bonus in March, and if the Vikings haven't signed him to a far less expensive deal by then (other GMs have projected perhaps worth $5 million in base salary), he will enter the free-agent market.
The Vikings are already transitioning into more of a throwing team under Norv Turner. Peterson is averaging a paltry 2.9 yards per carry over his past eight games dating back to last season (well under the NFL average and a staggering two yards per carry off his gaudy career average). Behind a porous line, throwing more screen passes and calling more outside runs for more nimble back Jerick McKinnon may actually help the struggling run game, some in the organization believe.
This could be Peterson's second prolonged absence in the past three seasons as he missed all but one game in 2014 after facing felony child abuse charges that were eventually pled down. He is one of the franchise's most decorated players on the field, and parting ways with such iconic figures is never easy, but his injury is just the latest development that will force a reworked contract if he is to remain a Viking beyond this season.