Agent’s Take: Why the Adrian Peterson trade makes sense for Cardinals and Saints
Peterson's playing time was minimal with the Saints and the Cardinals desperately needed a running back
The Saints pulled the plug on the Adrian Peterson experiment after four games, trading him to Cardinals Tuesday reportedly for a conditional 2018 sixth round draft pick. Peterson was the odd man out in a crowded Saints backfield.
When Adrian Peterson signed a two-year, $7.5 million contract (worth up to $15.25 million through salary escalators and incentives) with the Saints shortly before the NFL draft in late April, the expectation was he would complement incumbent running back Mark Ingram, who had his first 1,000 rushing yard season in 2016. After trading a 2018 second round pick to select Alvin Kamara early in the third round of this year's draft, there was speculation that Ingram would be most affected because of more overlap with their skillsets.
It didn't work out that way thanks to Kamara's versatility and head coach Sean Payton's affinity for the rookie. Peterson's playtime was significantly less than Ingram's and Kamara's. He only played 44 of the Saints' 259 offensive snaps (17 percent playtime). By contrast, Ingram was on the field for 52.9 percent of New Orleans' offensive plays. Kamara's playtime was 35.1 percent. The prospect of increased snaps was unlikely with the Saints on a two game winning streak.
The four carries and six snaps Peterson received against the Dolphins in Week 4 were career lows for the 11-year veteran. Peterson wasn't making the most of his limited opportunities. He had rushed for 81 yards on 27 carries and caught two passes for four yards this season.
Limited opportunity was unfamiliar territory for the seven-time Pro Bowler. Peterson averaged nearly 20 rushing attempts per game during his 10 years with the Vikings. He had 16 games with the Vikings where he matched or exceeded the 27 rushing attempts the Saints gave him.
The Saints weren't an obvious destination for Peterson because of a pass first offense with a heavy reliance on shotgun formations. Peterson's strength has never been his pass catching ability. During the past five seasons, the Saints have ranked no lower than fourth in pass attempts while ranking no higher than 19th in rushing attempts.
Peterson couldn't have gone to better place to try to resurrect his career. Workhorse running back David Johnson is out indefinitely recovering from a broken left wrist suffered in the season opener against the Lions. The Cardinals are last in the NFL with 2.6 yards per game and an anemic 51.8 rushing yards per game. The Dolphins are the next closest team to the Cardinals with 74.8 rushing yards per game.
Chris Johnson, who was released at the roster cutdown after spending the previous two seasons with the Cardinals, was re-signed to a one-year deal for $1 million with $1.15 million in incentives after Johnson went down. His ineffectiveness prompted the Cardinals to acquire Peterson and release him for a second time this season. Johnson rushed for 114 yards on 45 carries in four games. Andre Ellington has done a capable job filling in as a third down running back catching 26 passes for 222 yards during the last four games.
Peterson is a low-cost acquisition for a Cardinals team one game out of first place in the NFC West with a 2-3 record. The Cardinals are only responsible for $705,882 or 12/17ths of Peterson's fully guaranteed $1 million 2017 base salary, the performance bonuses and his 2018 contract year for $3.5 million, which includes a $750,000 roster bonus payable next March 16 on the third day of the 2018 league year. The Cardinals still have slightly more than $4.5 million of salary cap room after the trade for Peterson and release of Johnson because their base salaries are the same.
The Cardinals would gladly pay some portion of the performance bonuses because it would mean they have gotten more the Adrian Peterson of old rather than an old Adrian Peterson. There is a total of $1 million of incentives annually based on Peterson's rushing total each season. It's $150,000 for 750 yards. The amount increases to $250,000 at 1,000 yards. It goes up to $750,000 at 1,250 yards with another $250,000 for 1,500 yards. Peterson can make a maximum of $750,000 depending on how many touchdowns he scores. He gets $250,000 for six touchdowns and an additional $250,000 with eight scores. The remaining $250,000 is contingent on hitting the end zone at least 10 times and leading the NFL in rushing touchdowns. One million dollars is tied to team success and Peterson rushing for at least 750,000 yards. It's $250,000 for playing in the wild card or divisional playoff rounds. There's $250,000 more for an NFC Championship Game appearance. The final $250,000 is for playing in the Super Bowl. Any incentives earned in 2017 also get added to Peterson's weekly roster bonuses during the 2018 season, which currently total $1.25 million.
Peterson was a rather expensive four-game proposition for the Saints. He is costing them almost $2.8 million primarily because he received a $2.5 million signing bonus. The cap implications are different. The 2017 cap charge is just under $1.55 million, which is composed of the base salary paid by the Saints and half of Peterson's signing bonus. The Saints have $1.25 million cap charge in 2018 from the prorated part of his $2.5 million signing bonus.
Trades involving running backs who have already turned 30 are unusual, particularly high mileage ones, and for minimal compensation. The 32 year old's 2,445 career carries are second among active players. The conditional sixth round pick is consistent with the compensation in the rare trade for an older running back. The Saints received a 2014 fifth round pick from the Eagles in 2014 for Darren Sproles, who has primarily been a return specialist and a pass catching running back. This April, 31 year old Marshawn Lynch, who has over 2,200 career carries, was traded from the Seahawks to the Raiders with a 2018 sixth round pick for a 2018 fifth round pick when he came out of retirement.
The Saints may have had difficulty trading Peterson without Arizona's interest. The Giants were frequently mentioned as a potential destination for Peterson. The 0-5 start and the receiving corps being decimated by injury made such a move unlikely. There was also speculation that the Vikings might have interest in a reunion after Dalvin Cook, Peterson's successor, was lost for the season to a torn ACL in his left knee during Week 4. Jerrick McKinnon's strong performance Monday night against the Bears likely helped alleviate any concerns the Vikings may have had about their running game.
There may have been too much water under the bridge for a Peterson return anyway. The Vikings made minimal efforts to renegotiate Peterson's contract before declining to pick up his $18 million option for this season making him a free agent. Latavius Murray was quickly signed in free agency to a three-year, $15 million contract (worth as much as $25.9 million through base salary escalators and incentives). Peterson asked for trade in 2015 prior to reworking his contract for additional security because he felt Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren was working behind the scenes with the NFL to keep him off the field during the 2014 season after he went on the Exempt/Commissioner's Permission List because of child abuse charges.
It remains to be seen how much gas Peterson has left in the tank. The early returns from Peterson in New Orleans this season haven't been promising. He was also largely unproductive during an injury plagued 2016 season. Nonetheless, there's a good chance he'll give the league's worst rushing attack a boost. If Peterson doesn't, the Cardinals will surely part ways with him before next March when the $750,000 roster bonus is due and pick up $3.5 million of 2018 cap room in the process.
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