By Steve Silverman
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By several estimates, Adrian Peterson was at or near the top of running back rankings prior to the start of the 2016 season.
There were some scouts who did not agree, but a large number still saw Peterson as the proper combination of speed, strength and flat-out power and believed he could continue to run for more than 1,300 yards and score double-digit touchdowns for the Minnesota Vikings.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Even though the Vikings were damaged badly by a preseason injury to starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and shockingly soft play from the offensive line, Peterson has been downgraded significantly, and not just by his previous employer.
There was a certain softness and hesitation to Peterson’s game that resulted in his tentative running in the three games he saw action.
Tentative is a description that no running back can afford to have associated with his play, and that’s one of the reasons that Peterson remains a free agent after the Vikings declined to pick up the option on his contract. There are legitimate questions about whether he can recapture any of his past glory and run like a Mack Truck once again, even if it’s only for a year or more.
Peterson is just one of several older free agents still available who could make a sizable impact for a needy team.
[graphiq id=”cwmdO0S0c2p” title=”Adrian Peterson Career Rushing Stats” width=”600″ height=”635″ url=”https://w.graphiq.com/w/cwmdO0S0c2p” link=”http://football-players.pointafter.com/l/16215/Adrian-Peterson” link_text=”PointAfter | Graphiq” ]
And ironically, the longer Peterson waits before signing a contract, the better off he may be. Most teams want to know what their running back situation will be by the time offseason workouts have concluded. By that point, teams that are unsure of their potential at the position may come to the conclusion that Peterson can return to form, at least briefly, and that will lead to a contract offer
Peterson’s old team has already signed former Raider Latavius Murray, and Oakland could be one of those teams that are interested in bringing Peterson aboard.
However, that team also could also be interested in a running back who was incredibly productive last season in New England’s LeGarrette Blount.
Blount was a heavyweight puncher while running the ball for Bill Belichick last year, gaining 1,161 yards and scoring 18 rushing touchdowns. The 30-year-old Blount looks like he is close to the top of his game, but he is one hit away from a multigame suspension for substance abuse.
That could keep some franchises from taking a risk in signing him, but a number of teams could use his toughness, determination and productivity. Start off with the Cincinnati Bengals and Green Bay Packers. Both of those teams need a dependable power back who can perform in the biggest games.
Meanwhile, defensive end Dwight Freeney, at the age of 37, is near the end of his career, but he can still play the role of the savvy veteran who comes into the game on third down and rushes the passer. Freeney had three sacks and 10 quarterback hurries last year with the Falcons, and he was a factor in the postseason with a sack in the Super Bowl and three quarterback hits.
Any contender that is looking for a bit of veteran leadership from its defensive line could use a man like Freeney, who visited Dallas and Cincinnati last year before signing with the Falcons. One of those two teams could make a move in his direction, and while the Los Angeles Chargers (that sounds weird) don’t look like contenders, that could be a decent landing spot as well.
Jamaal Charles does not want to be a backup or share the starting running back spot with a younger player, but he may come to the conclusion that those are his only alternatives. Charles, 30, has had injury and surgical issues, and he will have to show he can handle the load as a team’s primary running back. While he may have the long speed to break plays, his durability and talent for making quick cuts could be an issue.
Charles may be better off waiting until training camp to sign because that’s when injuries hit, or reality shows a general manager that his team is lacking at that position.
The big fish is still Tony Romo, even though the quarterback is not technically a free agent.
However, the Cowboys can’t bring him into camp and think that everything will be OK, even though he made a magnanimous statement last year about then-rookie quarterback Dak Prescott.
Romo takes massive physical abuse and has a history of serious injuries, but he throws one of the most catchable balls in the league, and he would clearly be an upgrade for the Houston Texans or Denver Broncos.
Both of those teams are waiting for Jerry Jones to make the move that will surely come before the start of training camp.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy