After enduring an ACL tear late in the 2011 NFL season, Adrian Peterson went through rehab while eagerly awaiting his return to the field of play the following year. Questions swirled around how effective and healthy he would be, and how long it would take to get back his top form. While he didn’t top 100 yards in a game until Week 4, he would slowly hit a stretch that saw him break 150 yards seven times, including twice hitting 200 (and a game at 199). He would finish the year with 2,097 yards, only eight yards shy of the single season record set by Eric Dickerson in 1984.
All of this is to say that Peterson is an incredible athlete, regardless of his inexcusable actions off the field. Having a year off, assuming he has been working out and training regularly, means that he will enter the 2015 season refreshed and likely motivated to prove his worth. As we’ve come to learn in football, it’s not necessarily the age of running backs that indicate future performance, but past workload. That’s part of the reason, for example, Fred Jackson has been able to perform at a high level at what is a late age for a back.
On April 15th, 2015 the NFL will decide on reinstatement for Peterson. Considering the recent ruling on Ray Rice, it’s likely Peterson will be eligible to sign with a team and play, but what team? It seems very unlikely the Vikings will keep him, but as we know in the NFL, talent trumps almost all, and there look to be no shortage of clubs who would need or want a star running back. There are more than a handful of teams lacking a reliable power back that can also break long touchdowns, especially one who will come with a cheap price tag. Peterson though, isn’t a fit for everyone, so we’re also looking at teams that have a strong head coach, and those fan bases that may be more willing to forgive Peterson.
With that in mind, if Minnesota were to cut Peterson, these are the top ten spots for Peterson to land in 2015.
10 Tennessee Titans
The Titans need offensive weapons. They rank towards the bottom of the league in points and total yards, and have among the worst ground attacks, gaining less than 100 yards per game. That isdue to the fact that they are often trailing and they yet to have any threat at quarterback, but that might be changing. Rookie sixth round pick Zach Mettenberger is emerging at QB, a confident young man with a big arm.
The Titans also drafted Bishop Sankey this past offseason, and he has shown explosiveness at times, but again the Titans are bad all around that it’s hard to assess any one position accurately. As they continue to develop young talent, Peterson would complement Sankey in the backfield while allowing Mettenberger to utilize play action and show off his arm. AP probably wouldn’t mind playing against the Jacksonville Jaguars twice a year.
9 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs have a questionable situation at running back, with Doug Martin struggling to stay on the field. Bobby Rainey has shown some flash, but the Bucs are behind so often that they can’t run the ball as much as they would prefer. What’s frustrating for Tampa is that they possess some exciting and physically imposing talent at wide receiver in Vincent Jackson and rookie phenom Mike Evans. With uncertainty at quarterback, some stability and strength in the backfield could go a long way to help a sputtering offense. With Lovie Smith, who surely will improve the team during the offseason (they are better than their record indicates), it stands to reason that AP could assimilate into the locker room and be a worthy teammate while playing in a smaller market.
8 New York Jets
Who knows what the Jets will do this offseason? This never-ending circus may clean house and find a new general manager and coach, and whoever those men are, they will be tasked with dissecting every position. The Jets needs to figure out their quarterback situation and put together some semblance of an offense. The defensive oriented Rex Ryan clearly has no interest in scoring a lot of points, but this has got to be it, especially after an ugly loss Monday night to the Dolphins. And while he’s not as big a factor anymore on the field, Michael Vick has been a champion off the field for those players who have made mistakes and seek second chances. Vick could put his arm around Peterson and help make his case, provided the Jets enter the offseason with new, stable leaders at the top of the organization.
7 Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars aren’t in a position to dismiss any player with talent that’s available. Not surprisingly, they’re at the bottom in the league in offense, and are looking to build a winning team around a slew of young offensive players and an average defense. The Jags drafted three wide receivers in Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, and Marquise Lee to catch the ball from rookie QB Blake Bortles. They’ve had second year running back Denard Robinson now leading the way from the backfield, but that’s about it. Toby Gerhart hasn’t been able to stay on the field, and rookie Storm Johnson hasn’t been able to set himself apart with his opportunities. In a small, southern market that gets little attention, Peterson may be able to fit in, be accepted, and make the Jaguars look like some sort of professional team.
6 Buffalo Bills
The Bills are running out of what few offensive weapons they have. CJ Spiller can’t stay healthy, and when he does, he still looks to swing to the outside instead of powering through the middle. Journeyman powerhouse Fred Jackson is (slowly) heading into the sunset. With no future answer at quarterback at the moment, the Bills need a strong ground game to allow a passing attack to be more comfortable. If defenses need to worry about Peterson, the Bills QB next year, be it Kyle Orton, E.J. Manuel, or whoever (RGIII?) should have time to get the ball to their star threat Sammy Watkins. What’s more, Peterson still wouldn’t be the most infamous running back to ever play on the Bills…
5 Oakland Raiders
The Raiders are a mess, but maybe, just maybe they are slowly putting pieces in place to grow as a team. Quarterback Derek Carr has been the best of the rookie crop and has the makings of a solid NFL QB. They have speedy receivers as well and a have a young explosive back in Latavius Murray, which is key because Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones Drew are way past done. While the Raiders have a lot of issues to address in the offseason, bringing in Peterson could only help an offense that ranks last in rushing, last in total yards, and second last in points scored.
4 New England Patriots
This is one team that certainly doesn’t need a strong running back, in that they find ways to win with each and every players it seems. We’ve already seen young Jonas Gray appear suddenly, run for 200 yards and 4 TDs, only to be benched the next week, giving way to power back Legarette Blount rumbling over a stout Lions D for two scores. And that was only days after the Steelers cut Blount. It all feeds more into the mythology of Bill Belichick. He finds worth in every player, and every player buys into his strict system because he wins. Belichick in the past has taken risks with once great players or those who have run afoul of the law. Blount, Aaron Hernandez, Albert Haynesworth are some of the players he’s put on the field despite altercations and incidents. The Pats are always formidable, and Peterson wouldn't hurt.
3 Atlanta Falcons
It seems every year Steven Jackson is on his way out, but this time it just might be the end for the veteran back. The Falcons on paper have a great passing offense, but a porous line and no threat of a running game have hampered any aerial attack led by Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, and Roddy White. Jackson is the team’s power back, taking the goal line snaps and working in short yardage situations, and will need to be replaced. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman have proven explosive, but both are smaller runners. At the moment of this writing, the Falcons are still in contention in the woeful NFC south, but there is a decent chance Mike Smith won’t last through the offseason, opening the door for a new coach with a different approach who could welcome in AP in a southern market that might be more willing to forgive Peterson.
2 Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks way of winning has to do with a power running game and a strong, physical defense. Right now they have both, but when the season ends, it looks like they will be without their star back. It has been publicly documented that Marshawn Lynch is unhappy with his current situation, and while the Seahawks are starting to look like Super Bowl champs again by stringing together some impressive victories, and Lynch is piling up yards and TDs, he’ll likely be gone at the end of the year.
Pete Carroll has had to coach divas, media darlings, and an entire team that shot to fame and fortune dominating the Denver Broncos to win the Super Bowl. Winning heals all, and whatever issues there would be bringing Peterson into the locker room, Carroll would have no problem giving him 25 touches a game as long as they put up a win. Peterson should come cheap too, which will be key as Russell Wilson is going to cost a lot now that his rookie contract is up.
1 Dallas Cowboys
A native of Texas, Peterson could return home and see perhaps the warmest welcome of anywhere he lands in the NFL. Owner Jerry Jones has even said he wants Peterson (before his suspension), and Peterson has said he wants to play for Jones when his time is done in Minnesota (which is likely now). While the Cowboys have the league’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray, a player that the Cowboys have ridden hard this season, he is a free agent in the offseason and will demand a high price. With Dez Bryant desiring to be the highest paid wide receiver in the game, the Cowboys have some decisions to make on offense. There are reasons to keep and get rid of both of these stars, but for Murray, the concern deals with workload and injury potential. Murray has been carrying the rock a ton this year, and will only continue to lead the way as the Cowboys make a push for the playoffs. Examples of regression after such a strenuous have been noted over the last decade, and with a history of injury, Murray, for all his greatness, can’t be trusted. Peterson could easily slip into an offseason that enjoys a back who can swing outside the tackles, run hard up the middle, block, and catch passes. I'm sure Jerry Jones wouldn't mind any added attention.