By Steve Silverman
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Adrian Peterson is eligible to return to all Minnesota Vikings team activities now that the NFL has reinstated him.READ MORE: NYPD: Man Shot Inside Union Square Subway Station
With the draft less than two weeks away, this signals the start of the NFL’s most eye-opening movements of the year. Usually, the biggest movers are draft picks, with teams that believe they are on the verge of a championship — or at least a playoff run — demonstrating their willingness to move up in the draft by sacrificing quantity for quality.
On the other end, teams that are coming off losing seasons are more likely to go the other way and trade one or two high picks for a boatload of lower picks so they can become more competitive once the season begins.
Draft picks will move this time around, and there’s a reasonable chance the Tennessee Titans will move the No. 2 pick overall. However, the player that is going to attract the most attention is Peterson.
The 30-year-old running back says he wants out of Minnesota. Peterson’s nose is out of joint because he believes that Vikings management didn’t support him the way it should have while he was on the commissioner’s exempt list (meaning he was suspended, no matter how NFL authorities describe it) for beating his son so badly that the child’s physician called authorities when wounds and welts were discovered on his body.
Never mind that head coach Mike Zimmer has built an excellent relationship with Peterson and the rest of the Vikings. Zimmer is the rarest of coaches who can lay down the law and speak frankly with players while inspiring incredible loyalty.
Zimmer is probably the biggest reason the Vikings will turn into legitimate contenders this season. He won’t let his players get away with substandard effort and the more he gets in their face, the more they will fight for him.
However, there are outside factors working the Peterson front, and those factors are coming from the NFL’s outlet in Dallas.
Jerry Jones may have overplayed his hand when he let the NFL’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, get away and sign a five-year contract with the Philadelphia Eagles at the start of free agency. Murray was a legitimate MVP candidate for the large majority of the 2014 season. He ran for 1,845 yards and 13 touchdowns and also caught 57 passes.READ MORE: Storm Watch: Officials Hoping To Avoid Repeat Of Ida With Preparations For Nor'easter
But Jones let the 27-year-old rushing champion get away to his top rival with barely a whimper. It seems obvious that Jones is going to make a hard run at Peterson.
Normally, 30-year-old running backs have a short shelf life in the NFL. But Peterson is a different kind of physical specimen, and the 6-foot-2, 217-pound bruiser may be able to play at a peak level for four more seasons.
Peterson ran for 2,097 yards in 2012, and he also has a 1,760-yard season under his belt. He played just one game last season before he was forced to the sidelines for his off-the-field issues, and that saved him a year of contact.
Jones is thirsting to get the Palestine, Texas native in a Cowboys uniform. As good as Murray was last season, he does not quite have the cachet that Peterson does. Whether that assessment is deserved or not will be proven out over the next couple of years, but when Peterson is in the lineup, all eyes are on him.
But here’s the problem for Jones. Peterson has three years remaining on the six-year, $86.3 million contract he signed, and the Vikings are not going to cede control of him without getting a premium package in return. Agent Ben Dogra may rail against the team and stomp his feet, but general manager Rick Spielman is not simply going to let Peterson go.
Peterson may decide to stay home when the Vikings begin training camp in late July. He may stay away until the day after the team plays its last preseason game, but he is not going to forfeit his salary. He will return the day after that last preseason game.
The Vikings will have to be excellent poker players over the next two weeks. If the Cowboys are willing to come across with a bountiful package that includes first- and second-round draft picks, a receiver and a solid offensive lineman, the Vikings can get on the phone with Jones and start hammering things out. If not, the Vikings can bide their time and prepare to force Peterson’s hand.
It was just over 25 years ago that Jimmy Johnson and the Cowboys traded All-Pro running back Herschel Walker and four draft picks to Minnesota for five players, three first-round picks (two conditional), three second-round picks (two conditional), a conditional third-round pick and a sixth-round pick.
The trade allowed the Cowboys to select Emmitt Smith, Russell Maryland, Darren Woodson and Kevin Smith. That infamous deal was the primary reason the Cowboys won three Super Bowls in the 1990s.MORE NEWS: 'Squid Game' Halloween Costumes Banned By New York School District Due To Netflix Hit's 'Violent Message'
The Vikings know they won’t get that kind of return for Peterson, but they want something substantial. If Jones is not willing to pay a king’s ransom, his dreams of putting Peterson in a Cowboys uniform will go unfulfilled.