Eden Prairie, MN (AP)
Adrian Peterson declared himself fit to play several more seasons in the NFL, even if that's elsewhere from Minnesota.
The 31-year-old Peterson finished with only 72 yards on 37 rushes over three games, a torn meniscus in his right knee responsible for an abbreviated 10th season with the Vikings that might well have been his last. He acknowledged savoring the fans and his teammates more than usual the past few days.
"I'd be lying to you to say that I haven't thought about, 'Well, what if we're not able to work things out?'" Peterson said Monday in the locker room as players packed up for the winter.
Peterson returned for the Dec. 18 game against Indianapolis only to be sidelined again the last two weeks after aggravating his knee. Carrying an $18 million salary cap hit on his contract for 2017, Peterson is uncertain to come back at his age with the team's other needs. He said he'd consider a reduced salary to return, which would probably be the only way for that to happen.
"There's the reality that there comes a point in time where, yeah, the best thing to do is take a pay cut, and it might be in the best interest of the team as well," Peterson said, adding: "I guess with the number being so high you could speculate and say that's the case, but in due time I think we'll cross that bridge."
Just as Peterson refused to "write off" his time in Minnesota, he predictably said he sees himself playing another five to seven years.
"And it's going to be at a high level," Peterson said.
Even if the Vikings remained in postseason contention, Peterson said, he was unable to play the last two weeks because of the re-injury that actually occurred two days before his return to game action. With the meniscus 90 percent torn from the fateful Sept. 18 play against Green Bay, he said a minor operation to trim the cartilage and get him back sooner was not an option.
"I feel like since I've been here I've done a lot of things to show my integrity when it comes to coming back on the field and working hard and to help my team win," Peterson said, alluding to the swift 2012 comeback from ACL reconstruction and other lesser injuries. "It wasn't any different when it came to the meniscus."
Peterson has been paid about $35 million over the past three years, but the child abuse case he was involved in during the 2014 season and the injury that waylaid him in 2016 limited him to 20 games, plus one in the playoffs.
Even with the league-leading 1,485 yards rushing Peterson accumulated in the 2015 season, and including his receiving totals, the Vikings paid him about $18,000 per yard over the last three years. That's simply not the type of return on investment that would push any team to bring a player back for another season at age 32, no matter how much the salary cap rises. Nor no matter how valuable Peterson has been to the organization since he was drafted with the seventh overall pick in 2007.
So what about the sight of Peterson sporting uniform colors other than purple?
"I think that will be weird for everybody, but that's between Adrian and the guys upstairs," running back Jerick McKinnon said, adding: "I wouldn't call it goodbye. As far as I know he's still on the team. I'm training with him this offseason, so I know he's going push me hard and I know we're going to get good work."
With the Vikings eliminated a week early, a handful of high-profile players have been fielding these this-could-be-the-end questions from reporters for several days. Linebacker Chad Greenway stopped short of declaring his retirement after 11 seasons, but his return is improbable. Cornerback Terence Newman's contract is expiring, and he'll turn 39 before the 2017 season opener.
Captain Munnerlyn, a reliable presence as the slot cornerback in the nickel defense, will also be a free agent. He acknowledged some anxiety about his status and, in reiterating his desire to remain in Minnesota, came close to choking up in the locker room on Monday despite his ever-present smile and upbeat tone.
"We'll see," Munnerlyn said. "Hopefully I'm the best guy available for them."
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