Adrian Peterson is officially a free agent. While it was once unthinkable that the Minnesota Vikings would ever part ways with the star running back, a combination of factors has led to them releasing the one player that nobody thought they would ever release. Because it’s been a couple of years since Peterson has taken the field for a whole season, let’s remind you that Peterson is one of the greatest running backs of all time and that he has shown no evidence of slowing down aside from the seasons he missed due to injuries and legal issues. Peterson would be a welcome addition to any NFL roster.
That being said, there are only a few teams in the league that truly need Peterson, have the resources to acquire him, and actually should make the effort to sign him. That last part is the deciding factor. Of all of Peterson’s potential suitors, there are a select few teams which should actually do everything they can to sign him despite the fact that there are many teams in the league that could do so. These are the eight teams who should sign Adrian Peterson and the seven teams who should stay away.
15 Should - Green Bay Packers
The Packers' 2016 season was far from a bust, but it was filled with moments that reminded Green Bay fans of the team’s many weaknesses. Chief among these weaknesses is the offense’s dependence on a god-like Aaron Rodgers. If Rodgers isn’t playing at Hall of Fame levels, Green Bay falters. While a running back like Adrian Peterson won’t solve all the Packers woes, he will give Green Bay an offensive element that the franchise hasn’t really had since Eddie Lacy was last relevant. It’s tough to imagine that Green Bay will seriously alter their offensive strategy to accommodate Peterson - and there are better pass catching running backs out there - but Peterson is the guy who can ensure that the Packers can slow things down and stay ahead.
14 Stay Away - Miami Dolphins
A free agent like Adrian Peterson is tempting because he’s not just a great player; he’s a proven commodity. Teams are looking at Adrian Peterson and thinking “We can do great things in the next few seasons if we have him on our roster.” Peterson has only had one mediocre season in which he’s played over five games. He’s a sure thing. Comparatively, Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi is not a proven commodity. He’s a guy that’s shown flashes of brilliance, but the Dolphins don’t know if he can be a long-term workhorse. As painful as it may sound, the Dolphins need to put their faith in Ajayi and accept the potential consequences. They’re still in a rebuilding phase and Ajayi can keep them young and keep the cap down.
13 Should - Carolina Panthers
The Carolina running game is a strange beast. For a few seasons, Carolina found themselves atop of many of the league’s rushing categories. However, if you look at the individual stats of the Carolina running backs, you’ll find that none of them are particularly impressive. Of course, the thing that makes Carolina’s running game so great are the contributions of Cam Newton who is one of the greatest running quarterbacks we’ve ever seen. As we saw last season, though, Carolina relies too much on Newton’s running ability, and teams are starting to figure out how to shut him down. If Newton had a guy like Peterson lined up behind him, he could get in the head of defenses again by forcing them to pick a target and hope they’re right.
12 Stay Away - Houston Texans
If you’re the Houston Texans, you have to be looking at Adrian Peterson simply because he has name-dropped you in the past when talking about teams he wants to play for. It’s easy enough to understand why Peterson would want to return to his home state, and it’s easy enough to understand why the Texans would be looking Peterson’s way. Sure, Lamar Miller is a really good running back, but he’s not Adrian Peterson. The reason why the Texans should stay away from Peterson has nothing to do with Miller, though, and everything to do with their quarterback situation. Houston doesn’t have a single quarterback on the roster they can rely on. The Texans are a playoff team who are only going to get better if they spend money on a quarterback.
11 Should - New York Giants
The Giants’ 2016 season was a reminder that the Giants are still the Giants. What that means is that they’re still a team that’s going to look like they could beat the world one week, and a team that struggles to even put up a touchdown the next. The Giants problems run pretty deep, but all stem from the fact that they rely too much on dynamic plays from some of their star offensive and defensive contributors. If guys like Odell Beckham Jr. aren’t going off, the Giants are left shrugging their shoulders. Peterson could be the rock that the Giants have needed for a long time. He can ensure that Eli doesn’t need to throw the ball 40 times a game for the Giants to stay competitive while helping the Giants’ defense get a little more rest from time to time.
10 Stay Away - New Orleans Saints
Admittedly, New Orleans is a fascinating potential landing spot for Peterson. In fact, you could actually argue that Peterson would help turn the Saints into immediate contenders. After all, the team’s biggest hole right now is their running game. No offense to Mark Ingram, but he very well may have reached his peak last season when he put up 1,063 yards. Besides, he hasn’t exactly proven that he’s able to stay healthy. The problem with bringing Peterson to New Orleans comes down to two numbers; age and salary. Adrian Peterson is 31 years old which is fairly old for a starting NFL running back that’s carried the ball as often as Peterson.
More importantly, Drew Brees is 38 and is going to be entering his final career years soon. Is it really worth it for the Saints to pay Peterson’s ransom if they’re going to be looking for a new franchise quarterback and running back in a few years?
9 Should - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
For a few years now, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been the team that are way better then you think they are. Jameis Winston is slowly starting to figure out what it means to be an NFL quarterback, and he’s got Mike Evans there to serve as his training wheels until he’s really ready to just break loose. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay defense is locked into that “bend, don’t break” mode which is sometimes all you need to win a Super Bowl. What Tampa Bay doesn’t have is a running back they can really rely on. The closest thing to that they have on the roster is Doug Martin who has posted two brilliant seasons and three awful ones in his career. Peterson is Tampa Bay’s missing piece.
8 Stay Away - Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears are on this list as a representative for teams like Cleveland, Jacksonville, and the San Francisco 49ers. These teams all have two things in common. They desperately need an upgrade at running back, and they’re all awful. A guy like Adrian Peterson can help these teams in some ways. For instance, he could go to Chicago and help the Bears achieve a winning record. The problem is that Peterson isn’t going to help Chicago or any of these other teams achieve anything more than a better regular season record. Plus, Jeremy Langford had a breakout season, ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards and that didn't help the Bears much.
If someone is going to spend the money on Peterson, they’re going to do so because they’re confident he can help them win a Super Bowl. Chicago and teams like Chicago aren’t coming close to a Super Bowl with or without Peterson.
7 Should - Indianapolis Colts
The last couple of years haven’t been kind to the Colts. Despite Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton putting up the kind of numbers that we typically associate with the league’s best, Indianapolis can’t even seem to turn their best statistical games into wins. While the Colts' problems go well beyond the running back position, the team has a serious talent deficit at that position. At present, the Colts are relying on Frank Gore to be their workhorse running back. Gore is a great player, be he’s not that guy anymore. Peterson could be that guy. The Colts' top talents aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, meaning that if Indy can find the cap space to get Peterson on the roster for a few years, Indy can turn those years into deep playoff runs.
6 Stay Away - Los Angeles Chargers
Not too long ago, the big trend in roster building involved the thunder and lightning dual running back set-up. The idea is that you get one power back (thunder) to handle short yardage and goalline work and a quicker running back (lightning) to serve as an exterior runner and pass option. It’s worked to varying degrees of success. Theoretically, the Chargers could piece together their own version of this combo by having an aging Peterson settle into a power runner role while young Melvin Gordon provides the sparks. Even better, the Chargers could use Peterson’s name value to help sell tickets to their new home.
It all sounds nice, but does anyone believe Peterson can really elevate the Chargers to the next level? The Chargers are going to be rebuilding before too long, and they don’t need Peterson’s contract holding them back.
5 Should - Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks can say they don’t miss Marshawn Lynch. They can tell Thomas Rawls and the rest of the Seattle running backs that they shouldn't worry about filling Lynch's shoes. They can say whatever they want about Lynch, but none of it changes the fact that the Seahawks haven’t looked the same since Lynch left. They’re a team that were built around a dominant defense and a hard runner, and they don’t have that hard runner on the roster anymore even though they might try to say that they do. While Seattle still has the right pieces of talent in place, they need to pursue Peterson. Peterson can step into the Lynch role immediately and get this team back to their Super Bowl ways.
4 Stay Away - Denver Broncos
Are the Denver Broncos a good team? It’s a fair question. When the Broncos had Peyton Manning at the helm, they had every team quaking in fear at the prospect of facing their dynamic offense and daunting defense. Now, however, the Broncos defense is having to carry a disproportionate amount of the load, and it’s starting to show. On offense, the Broncos rarely look better than “okay,” which is pretty amazing when you look at some of the talent available to them. You can’t rule out the Broncos, but few teams fear them.
Adrian Peterson can do a lot of different things for a lot of different teams, but it seems unlikely that he can turn the Broncos into a team to be feared. Denver is better off making sure they’ve really got their future quarterback on the roster before investing elsewhere.
3 Should - New England Patriots
The best running back Tom Brady has ever worked with is either Kevin Faulk or Corey Dillon based on your personal preference. Think about that. Brady has won five Super Bowls and has never played with a running back better than Kevin Faulk or Corey Dillon. Running backs might not be as crucial as they once were, but that’s still impressive. What do you think Brady could do with someone like Adrian Peterson in the backfield? That’s an honest question, actually, as we really have no way of knowing how Brady would play with a true star running back.
However, it’s hard to imagine that the pairing would be anything but incredible. Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? The Patriots only make the AFC Championship over the next few seasons?
2 Stay Away - Dallas Cowboys
It’s hard to believe that this is actually being discussed, but since it is, we’ll address it here. A few years ago, rumors of Adrian Peterson going to the Dallas Cowboys began to circulate after Peterson indicated he was interested. At the time, it seemed like a great fit. The Tony Romo-led Cowboys had bounced between a few running back prodigies and hadn’t found that one player quite yet. That was a few years ago, though. A lot has changed since then, and none of these changes are more significant than the rise of Ezekiel Elliott. Make no mistake that Ezekiel Elliot is the future of the Dallas Cowboys. He might even be the next Adrian Peterson. As fun as it is to imagine Peterson behind the Cowboys offensive line, it isn’t going to happen.
1 Should - Oakland Raiders
Hardcore Raiders fans are going to tell you a very simple story when you ask them what happened to their beloved team in 2016. They’ll say that everything was going according to plan and then Derek Carr succumbed to injury. That’s not entirely inaccurate, but that story overlooks a few key aspects of the season. Namely, it doesn’t cover how bad the Raiders looked without their star quarterback at the helm. While the same can be said of many NFL teams, the one-dimensional nature of the Raiders’ offense became particularly obvious once that dimension was removed.
Can Peterson ensure that the Raiders will be at their best even when Carr isn’t on the field? Maybe not, but the thought of a healthy Carr having Peterson to work with instantly makes the Raiders one of the most intimidating teams in the league.