Sunday, March 13, 2011

10 Reasons the Vikings Should Trade Adrian Peterson

Now that I've got your attention, let me explain myself before you go medieval on me in the comment section below. It's not going to happen. This is purely hypothetical -- NFL trades are rare, and the ongoing labor negotiations have put the world on hold anyways. Moreover, Vikings' ownership is well aware that Adrian Peterson is the only thing standing between a full house and a sea of empty blue seats. Or maroon bleachers. But just because it won't happen, that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. The idea of taking a step backwards is obviously discouraging, but it may be necessary to reach the ultimate goal. Believe me, I've suffered through 29 years of Vikings-induced heartache, and I want nothing more than to see my team win a Super Bowl.

There's no denying that Peterson is a class act and a transcendent talent. I'm proud to have him on my favorite team. However, this franchise is headed in the wrong direction, and the "asset" of Adrian Peterson provides the Vikings with a unique opportunity to rebuild faster than most teams in their dire situation.

On the surface, trading one of your franchise's all-time greats is lunacy. In the next 2,000 words, I'll do my best to convince you that it's not.

10. A Decline Appears Imminent
Due to circumstances beyond his control, Peterson is set up for a drop-off in production. Without a legitimate threat under center, he'll regularly face eight and nine-man boxes, neutralizing his effectiveness. He was able to overcome this in his first two seasons (he averaged a combined 5.2 YPC in 2007 and 2008), but he was aided by an offensive line that featured Pro Bowl center Matt Birk and All-World left guard Steve Hutchinson. Birk departed before the 2009 season, and the 33-year old Hutchinson's play has deteriorated rapidly. Despite the offensive line's backslide, Brett Favre was able to keep defenses honest enough for Peterson to churn out a respectable 4.5 YPC over the past two seasons. Unfortunately, there's not a quarterback in the draft or on the open market capable of diverting defensive attention away from Peterson in 2011. Hence, opposing defenses will be afforded the luxury of pinning their ears back and swarming to Peterson, with little resistance from an increasingly permeable offensive line.

9. He's Being Wasted
Piggybacking off my last point, Minnesota's once-feared offensive line has become a liability. Right tackle Phil Loadholt regressed in his sophomore season. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie plays when he wants to play. Left guard Steve Hutchinson, when healthy, is a shell of his former self. Center John Sullivan has been overmatched every step of the way, and right guard continues to be patched together by backup-caliber talent. Games are won in the trenches, so what's the point of shelling out top dollar for an elite running back when your offensive line is constantly moving backwards? Perhaps Barry Sanders could best answer that question -- it's nonsensical. The Vikings have put the cart before the horse.

8. Sell High
It's a basic economic principle. Peterson's put to rest the injury concerns that followed him from the University of Oklahoma to Minnesota, and last season he righted his fumbling woes. He has four Pro Bowl seasons under his belt, and plenty of good football ahead of him. His value has never been higher, so trading him now would maximize his return in a trade. The timing is perfect -- next season he'll be a year older, and as I previously speculated, he'll be coming off a down year (by his standards). If his value is peaking, as I suspect, then it has nowhere to go but down.

7. The Green Bay Packers
I realize it's difficult to accept for Vikings fans, but the Packers are the best team in the NFL. They're young, and their talent runs deep on both sides of the ball. With headliners like Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, the pieces are in place for a dynasty -- or at the very least, a long run of NFC North domination. You can say all you want about the Vikings taking the Pack down to the wire in their first 2010 meeting back on October 24, but from that night forward the teams have gone in opposite directions. It's become painfully obvious that the Vikings are no longer in the same class as Green Bay. Considering that the Packers will likely have a stranglehold on the division for the foreseeable future, and that both Chicago and Detroit are trending in the right direction, the Vikings will be facing an uphill battle just to earn a Wild Card birth the next handful of years. As it stands, the Vikings are an aging 6-10 team on the decline. Wouldn't you rather be a young 5-11 team on the rise?

6. It's a Passing League
The modern era of the NFL is all about passing. Look no further than the Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks of the last eight years: Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. If you can envision the names Joe Webb, Jake Locker, or Vince Young on that list, then you might as well stop reading because I can't reach you. If you're still here, allow me do drop one more knowledge bomb. In 2006, Joseph Addai rushed for 1,081 yards, good for 18th among NFL running backs. Why is this significant? Because it's the most prolific season of any Super Bowl-winning running back in the last five years. The forward pass has officially replaced "three yards and a cloud of dust" as the winning formula in the NFL.

5. Wrong Recipe
Dating back to the early 1990's, every Super Bowl Champion has achieved excellence in at least two of three areas: quarterback, coaching, and defense. Last season the Packers had all three. Looking for exceptions to the rule? The 2000 Ravens and 2002 Buccaneers won with good coaching and historically good defenses. The 2007 Giants, perhaps? Sure, they're probably the weakest champion on paper in recent memory, but they fused experienced coaching, clutch quarterbacking, and a top-level defense. Show me the team in the last 20 years that won a Super Bowl with the combination of an elite running back, a mediocre defense, an inexperienced head coach, and a gaping hole at quarterback.

4. The Window Has Closed
It's time to start rebuilding. Sidney Rice and Ray Edwards are both at risk of walking via free agency, and despite the departure of Brett Favre and Pat Williams, this is still an old team. Key contributors Antoine Winfield, Steve Hutchinson, Jim Kleinsasser, Ben Leber, Bryant McKinnie, Visanthe Shiancoe, E.J. Henderson, and Kevin Williams are all on the wrong side of 30. That core feels even older when you consider that there's no true "quick fix" quarterback available -- the Vikings will almost certainly be in developmental mode at the position next season. The time has come to begin stockpiling young talent, as the Packers, Bucs, and Chiefs have done in recent years. Instead of hovering around mediocrity with an unbalanced roster, the Vikings would be wise to break it down, take their lumps, and attempt to build it back up stronger and better than ever.

3. Running Backs Don't Last
According to the NFLPA, running backs have the shortest average career of any position in the NFL (just 2.57 years). Due to excessive wear and tear, 30 tends to be the magical age that a running back falls off the cliff. If leaned on heavily early in his career, a back can flame out even sooner. Take Clinton Portis, for example. The University of Miami burner (he once ran a 4.26 40) took the NFL by storm in 2002. By his sixth season, he was noticeably slowing down. By his eighth season he'd become a plodder. Now, heading into his 10th season, he's been cut by the Redskins. Sarcastically dubbed Clinton "Tortoise," his burst is long gone and he's running on fumes. Clinton Portis is 29 years old. How did he get so old so fast? Portis toted the rock 1,308 times (including postseason) in his first four seasons. Adrian Peterson, who turns 26 this month, has logged 1,271 carries in his four-year career. As a violent runner who actively seeks out contact, Peterson's career as an elite-level back is probably somewhere around the halfway point. By the time the Vikings are able to surround him with the right pieces, he'll likely be washed up.

2. Running Backs are Replaceable
Sure, elite-level talents don't grow on trees. However, more so than any other position, a successful running back can be turned up out nowhere. Oftentimes it's because their specific running style is appropriately matched to a team's rushing scheme. Don't believe me? Of last season's 1,000-yard rushers, seven out of 17 (41%) were drafted in the third round or later. In fact, none of last season's top three rushers were draft day darlings -- Arian Foster was undrafted, Jamaal Charles was a third rounder, and Michael Turner was a fifth rounder. Furthermore, the majority of teams have wisely adopted the "running back by committee" approach -- that is, a rotation of good, fresh running backs can be as effective as one great workhorse. Last season Adrian Peterson, who's set to make nearly $13M in 2011, racked up 1,639 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. In New England, the undrafted tandem of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead combined for 2,019 combination yards and 19 scores, and together they'll bank less than a quarter of Peterson's 2011 salary. As far as replacements, the draft includes names like Mark Ingram, Mikel LeShoure, and Ryan Williams, for starters. With regard to free agency, the ultra-talented DeAngelo Williams (27) highlights a lengthy list of veteran backs looking for work.

Perhaps the blueprint the Vikings should be following is that of the Atlanta Falcons. In 2008, the Falcons were able to turn their franchise around in just one season, going 11-5 after winning just four games in 2007. They did it with a new coach, a rookie quarterback, and a free agent running back (Mike Smith, Matt Ryan, and Michael Turner). Is it crazy to think that the combination of Leslie Frazier, Blaine Gabbert, and DeAngelo Williams might share similar success? Keep in mind, they'd be aided by Matt Ryan's former tutor, new Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave. You may be asking how Blaine Gabbert entered the conversation...

1. The Haul
While NFL trades are uncommon, blockbuster moves involving running backs are not without precedent. The free agency era has ensured that a Herschel Walker-type deal (five players and eight draft picks, including three firsts and three seconds) will never happen again. In 1999, the Saints' Mike Ditka gave eight draft picks (including two firsts) to the Redskins for the right to move up and select the all-time NCAA rushing leader (at the time) out of Texas, Ricky Williams. That example doesn't really work, either, as Williams was an unknown NFL entity. However, there's one trade that is very relevant to this conversation -- it's time to revisit our old friend Clinton Portis. In February of 2004, the Broncos sent Portis (22) to the Redskins in exchange for shutdown cornerback Champ Bailey (25) and a second rounder. In the short term, the trade appeared to benefit both teams. Now seven years later, the younger Portis is all but done, and Bailey is still regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

Would the Redskins' freewheeling, star chasing owner Dan Snyder be willing to sign off on another such swap? And if so, what would be considered a fair asking price for the league's best running back in the prime of his career? Maybe the conversation begins with hard-hitting safety LaRon Landry (26), Washington's first rounder (No. 10 -- Julio Jones, Prince Amukamara), and something along the lines of a 2012 second rounder. Cincinnati and Arizona both have very talented young cornerbacks, as well as high draft picks. Perhaps a deal could be structured around Leon Hall (26) and the Bengals No. 4 overall pick, or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (24) and Arizona's first rounder (No. 5). Just like that, you've solidified your secondary for the next 6-8 years, and put yourself in position to draft your franchise quarterback (whether it be Blaine Gabbert or Cam Newton). Moreover, you could instantly fill the running back void with Mark Ingram at No. 12 if you so choose. Listen, I'm taking my best stab with these packages from a value perspective. I'm no Rick Spielman. The point is, the Vikings have a lot of holes, and an extra lottery pick combined with a proven young talent would go a long way towards a youth infusion.

No running back, not even Adrian Peterson, can win a Super Bowl on his own. This Vikings roster is flawed at numerous positions, and trading Peterson would allow them to plug young talent into these voids to kick-start the rebuilding process. Or, they can keep the status quo, scratching and clawing for a .500 record in a very strong NFC North. I love Adrian Peterson, and I want nothing more than to see him succeed at a high level in Minnesota. Sadly, it's impossible for me to envision him hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in purple. The supporting pieces and the timing just don't line up.


  1. It makes complete sense to me. I think the empty seat factor is the key reason it won't go down, along with the CBA mess.

    Just because it didn't work with KG, doesn't mean it wouldn't work for the purple.

  2. Not a good way to start my Monday morning!! Although I cannot argue one single point, I can only say that without AP and without a QB, we might as well wear Maroon, and become the Gophers.

    Trading Randy Moss the first time was hard, because special players are not easily replaced, but with Moss's antics, it was easier to accept. AP has been a model citizen, and a superstar...

    If the Vikes were to entertain the idea, wait until next year, and maybe, they can get a little Luck.

  3. After Adrian's comments today (comparing himself, as an NFL player, to a slave!), I'd be much less averse to trading him - IF the price is right. This team has many leaks and we need to start plugging the holes

  4. I bagen this article thinking it was lunacy. But it is a well argued set of points, compelling even. I have worried about longevity for some time. Backs don't last like Payton anymore -- see Shuan Alexander. Don't go for Redskin Landry however, he can't cover and takes poor lines. But interesting thought -- start Webb at QB and get Andrew Luck next year!

  5. Even before AP I still watched every game,. I would hate to see him go,. but to build a solid team for the future I say DO IT!!

  6. I understand all the comments about empty seats and running backs not lasting. I believe the Vikings are the true face of Minnesota and the Vikes have one more year to right the ship before its a yard sale. If we trade AP now; as Mchale did with KG, the Vikes might as well move to LA now. Because the Vikes ticket would be worth about the same as the Timber puppies. Really doesn't the NBA have some say...the Wolves should just be shut down.