As Adrian Peterson watched the Vikings make their run to the NFC Championship Game, for the first time since his fateful performance against the New Orleans Saints in 2010, the team’s all-time leading rusher couldn’t help but feel conflicted.
The Vikings had defeated the Saints only seven days earlier, in a matchup of two teams that had parted ways with Peterson in the previous 12 months, and the running back said told himself, “I guess it’s meant to be this way.” It was still hard, he admitted, to think about the Vikings in a Super Bowl a year after his 10 seasons with them had ended. But his feelings ultimately were with his former teammates and coaches.
“It didn’t feel good,” he said while making an appearance at the Mall of America on Saturday morning. “But it felt good when I thought about Everson Griffen, Brian Robison, Coach Zim, [Tom] Johnson, Danielle Hunter, [Andrew] Sendejo, those three guys that come down to Houston and work out with me, the guys I was around for 10-plus years, it felt good to see them in that position.”
Peterson, who will turn 33 in March, ended the 2017 season with the Arizona Cardinals, after the team acquired the running back in a trade following David Johnson’s wrist injury. Peterson gained 448 yards in six games with the Cardinals until a neck injury ended his season. He ran for 134 yards in his first game there, and gained 159 two weeks later on a day where he logged a career-high 37 carries, but averaged fewer than two yards a carry in three of his other six games.
He could be reunited with Kirby Wilson — the Cardinals’ new running backs coach who helped Peterson win his most recent rushing title in 2015 — if he were to return to Arizona next season, but an Arizona radio station reported this week that the Cardinals were likely to release Peterson before the final year of his contract with Johnson healthy.
Peterson said wants to play for possibly another four years, sticking to his oft-stated timeline of playing until he’s 37, but he could find himself in a similar situation to the one he was in last year, when he waited until April to sign with the Saints.
He said he’d seen the report that he could be released by the Cardinals, but added he hadn’t “heard anything from the horse’s mouth.
“If it is [true], it was a great run for me and a great opportunity for me, and it will be on to the next, but hopefully that’s not the case,” he said.
His belief he can still be productive, though, has not wavered.
“I told myself going into this offseason that I’m just going to sit back and relax and stop trying to control things,” he said. “I said, ‘At the end of the day, I know I can play.’ If you watch football for evaluating talent, if a guy has something left in the tank, I feel like you were able to see that I still can play the game. I said, ‘Whatever God presents me, I’ll run with it.'”
His final year in Minnesota was a rocky one, when Peterson tore his meniscus in Week 2 and rushed back for a Week 15 game against the Colts, only to sustain a groin injury in that game and sit out the Vikings’ final two games of the year. Peterson’s comments that he wouldn’t play if the Vikings weren’t in the playoff race didn’t sit well with some in the organization, and after the team declined Peterson’s $18 million option before the NFL combine last February, both sides made it clear they felt it was time to move on.
As he returned to hundreds of raucous fans on Saturday, though, Peterson called his return to Minnesota a trip back “home.
“I was here for 10 years,” Peterson said. “At the end of the day, I’ll always bleed purple. Coming back here, I was hugging fans, people that I’d see in training camp every year, that supported me and continue to support the Vikings. It’s always a good feeling.”