Considering his age, hefty contract, the severity of his injury, and the team’s salary cap for next season, the Minnesota Vikings may have to contemplate cutting running back Adrian Peterson before the NFL begins its 2017 league year.
Peterson underwent successful surgery to repair the torn meniscus ligament in his right knee Thursday morning and will begin rehabilitation immediately, the team announced.
How long the 31-year-old All-Pro and former NFL MVP takes to recover is still presently up for debate and largely depends on how well he heals from the surgery, which the team said didn’t reveal any other unknown damage but NFL Insider Ian Rapoport said a minor LCL sprain that won’t require an operation was discovered.
He was hurt in Minnesota’s Week 2 17-14 victory over the division rival Green Bay Packers, which moved the team to 2-0 on the season but Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata are now expected to split carries for what could be a months-long absence. Rapoport also reported that its possible Peterson returns by December should the Vikings be in a position to make a playoff run.
But the Vikings do have to look further down the road as Peterson is an older running back who entered the final year of his restructured contract this season. Peterson is scheduled to make a grand total of $12 million, and account for the same amount of Minnesota’s salary cap, in salary and bonuses this season.
Next year, Peterson’s total compensation is scheduled to climb $18 million in salary and bonuses, but there is a caveat. According to Spotrac, Minnesota “must exercise [the] 2017 salary by the last league day of 2016.” That last day of the 2016 league year would be March 8, 2017.
Minnesota could opt to cut Peterson, but league rules stipulate no team can cut a player unless they can pass a physical. Otherwise, the Vikings may have to eat Peterson’s considerable salary and have only $12.6 million in salary cap space heading into the free agency period before the 2017 season. Peterson would be only the 21st highest-paid player in the NFL in 2017, but would be the top paid running back by almost $10 million.
It’s an unfortunate situation for Minnesota on many fronts. Peterson’s injury comes on the heels of the gruesome knee dislocation suffered by third-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater that many believed spoiled the Vikings chances of a deep playoff or potential Super Bowl run.
Furthermore, the Vikings do have several key players scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in 2017: wide receiver and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, tackles Matt Kalil, and Andre Smith, and cornerback Captain Munnerlyn.