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Free Agent Spotlight: Running back, Adrian Peterson

The Bucs present an appealing possibility for title-hungry veterans

We see it in sports all the time when teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers become championship contenders. Aging veterans looking for another - or their first - shot at a title flock to the teams competing in end of season tournaments.

In the case of Tom Brady, the aging free-agent became the catalyst for a Super Bowl run during the Bucs’ run this year. Now, though, his presence and the team’s status as an early favorite to return to postseason play next year is already attracting the attention of fellow veterans in the final stretch of their careers.

One such veteran is soon-to-be 36-year old running back, Adrian Peterson. Continuing our look at potential free-agent targets for Tampa Bay this off-season, we look closer at this potential marriage between a team seeking another title run, and a running back seeking his first.

Adrian Peterson’s Career Thus Far

2007 NFL Draft - April 28, 2007 Photo by Richard Schultz/NFLPhotoLibrary

A 53-yard touchdown run against Iowa State in October of 2006 ended Adrian Peterson’s career as an Oklahoma Sooners running back, but what a career it was.

In three years of play Peterson racked up over 4,000-yards and 42 touchdowns, bursting onto the college football scene in 2004 with a 1,925-yard rushing performance in his freshman season.

Some considered Peterson a Heisman Trophy snub after losing out to USC quarterback, Matt Leinart.

Regardless, Peterson went from perhaps the most explosive freshman college football had ever seen, to the seventh-overall pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.

Taken by the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson went on to become that year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year after rushing for over 1,300-yards and scoring thirteen touchdowns.

For ten years, Peterson led the Vikings’ rushing attack and by the end had become the franchise’s leading rusher of all-time, earning seven Pro Bowl appearances and being selected to the First-Team All-Pro roster four times.

This isn’t the first time the possibility of Peterson playing with Brady has come up. In 2017, after the Vikings decided not to pick up the running backs contract option for his eleventh season, Peterson visited the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots before inking a deal with the New Orleans Saints.

Buccaneers fans never got to see Peterson with New Orleans though, as he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals before the two teams played. They did see him in a Cardinals uniform however, as Peterson’s first game with his second-team of the season was against the Bucs in a 38-33 win for the Cardinals.

In that game, Peterson ran for 134-yards and two touchdowns. He would have another breakout performance against he San Francisco 49ers just a few weeks later. In the game, Peterson put 159-yards on his division rival and his team came out with a ten point road win.

Those two games accounted for 293 yards and two touchdowns that season. In total, Peterson ran for 529-yards and two touchdowns. Not in addition to, but including, the stats from those two games.

Since those two games in 2017, Peterson has rushed for 100-yards or more just five more times while playing for the Washington Redskins in 2018 and 2019, and then for the Detroit Lions in 2020.

Peterson will be entering the 2021 season just 180-yards shy of 15,000 career rushing yards. So it’s reasonable to think he should become just the fifth rusher in NFL history to hit the milestone. The question is whether or not he’ll hit the mark as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, or not.

Why It Works

The question looming for the 2021 Buccaneers isn’t whether or not they have talented players, it’s whether or not they can afford to bring back all of their talent, and how they replace the talent they lose.

In Peterson’s case, the resolution of Leonard Fournette’s future with the franchise is what will either open or close the chances of this veteran joining the team.

If the two sides can’t come to an agreement and Fournette hits open waters, then Peterson finally teaming up with Brady may become a reality.

As much as his opportunities have dwindled, Peterson still averaged nearly four-yards per carry with the Lions this past season, and also averaged over eight-yards per catch. He wouldn’t be coming in looking to be the starting running back, so getting those averages from a role player could be highly impactful.

With Ronald Jones II on the roster coming off a rather impressive overall performance despite battling for carries and struggling with injury and illness at the end of the season, the Bucs could look to sprinkle in Peterson as a spell back while also continuing the development of 2020 third-round draft pick, Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

Add to all of this that Peterson will come cheap, and you may not see ‘Post-Season Peterson’, but you’ll get a solid veteran who can help when called upon, and provide some depth at one of the more physical positions on the field.

But...

There are better options out there, to be perfectly honest. The biggest one being James White.

It’s no secret Brady likes to throw to his running backs as much as he likes them carrying the ball, and while Peterson isn’t an incapable receiver, he’s not the strongest one either.

His best season as a pass catcher came in 2009 when he had 43 receptions for the Minnesota Vikings. This season alone, Fournette had 36 receptions while Ronald Jones II turned in 28.

Washington Redskins v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

In Peterson’s career he’s only had 28 or more catches in a single season, five times. Not that the Bucs would ask him to have as many catches, but it’d be nice to bring in a veteran with some proven and consistent pass-catching ability, if possible.

Tampa Bay could also look to approach the position with another draft pick. Najee Harris from Alabama is another name we’ve recently seen mocked to the Buccaneers with the 32nd Overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Of course, coming in at league minimum really doesn’t prevent Peterson from fitting in to any circumstance I suppose, especially as long as he’s willing to take on a LeSean McCoy type of role in the organization.

Peterson’s situation is an interesting one in that he’ll come in so cheap for someone he could get taken off the open market immediately, but also he’s not going to be so sought after a team like the Buccaneers couldn’t necessarily take a wait-and-see approach to adding him to the roster.

What’s the Cost?

Peterson had a base salary of $1.05M in 2020, the league minimum for a veteran with his experience. The number could go up for the 2021 season as it usually does, but it won’t be so much it kills any chance of Peterson landing on a roster.

Bottom line is, for whichever team looks at Peterson, the cost isn’t going to be the question. The question will be how his current skills set matches up with what the team needs moving into the next year.

What We Don’t Know

What we don’t know is what will happen with the Buccaneers’ plethora of pending free-agents. We’d all like to think guys like Shaquil Barrett, Lavonte David, Chris Godwin, etc. would take good money, but not max money, to keep the band together and try to win another Super Bowl title.

This isn’t the case however, and if some of those guys price themselves out of Tampa, the team may turn to bringing back a guy like Fournette at a higher price than most would have expected, just to retain as many players as possible.

We already know Peterson wants to play with Brady, but we also don’t know who else wants to play with him. If James White is a real possibility its hard to imagine the Bucs don’t at least sit down for a cup of coffee with him.

Make The Decision

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Redskins Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

It’s a story of missed chances coming back around. But is it too late? The Buccaneers could have drafted Peterson way back in 2007, choosing Clemson defensive end Gaines Adams instead.

Peterson and Brady had a chance to team-up in New England in 2017, but the running back ended up with New Orleans and then Arizona.

Now, Brady is in Tampa and Peterson wants to become the latest to move down to Florida for a chance at a boat parade.

If you were Jason Licht, what would you and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers do in this situation?

Poll

When It Comes To Adrian Peterson, What Would You Have The Buccaneers Do?

This poll is closed

  • 3%
    Sign Him, No Matter What
    (12 votes)
  • 15%
    Make An Offer, But Keep It Reasonable
    (46 votes)
  • 20%
    Invite Him For A Cup Of Coffee And See Where It Goes From There
    (63 votes)
  • 30%
    Call Him Up If They Have A Need After The Draft
    (94 votes)
  • 29%
    Don’t Need Him
    (90 votes)
305 votes total Vote Now

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