Two interesting developments in the running back market before NFL free agency begins were the release of Jamaal Charles from the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Minnesota Vikings declining the option on Adrian Peterson. Both moves were expected.
Peterson had an $18 million option for 2017, which made no sense to pick up for the Vikings. Peterson played in just 3 games before a season ending injury shut him down. He had just 72 yards on 37 carries in those three games. Peterson is usually a slow starter, but maybe it was a sign for the Vikings that healthy or not, it was time to move on. Peterson, who has been with the team since 2007 and won the NFL MVP in 2012, led the NFL in rushing three times, including a 2097-yard season during his MVP campaign. He missed almost all of 2014 due to suspension, only to bounce back with a 1485 yards, 11 touchdowns effort the next year.
Peterson is most likely going to end up re-signing with the Vikings for a cheaper contract. He’ll be 32 by the end of March, and with his performance from last season a strong reminder of his age and declining abilities, he won’t have much leverage when it comes to getting a big contract. However, even old running backs don’t get thrown out of the league right away, and Peterson has shown that he’s probably not your average running back, even at his age.
He’ll be looking at options in the market, especially at playoff contenders and teams with a sorted out quarterback situation. The Dallas Cowboys name immediately came up, but while Peterson loves the Cowboys and Jerry Jones loves him, this doesn’t seem like a very good fit: Peterson won’t be the #1 guy in Dallas, and investing big money (or close to it) in another running back isn’t a wise decision for a team that doesn’t have too much cap space to work with, while a few holes on the field to fill.
For Charles, released by the Chiefs after nine seasons with the team, it’s going to be difficult finding a new place, or at least a guaranteed contract. While he did post five seasons between 2009 and 2014 of at least 1300 yards from scrimmage, he played only 8 games in the last two seasons combined, for a total of 404 yards on 83 carries and 5 touchdowns. That’s a pretty good average, but the former Texas star will find that the league isn’t that hospitable to running backs past 30 who have the injury label attached to their name.
Charles had a $6.2 million cap hit in 2017, but none of the money he was supposed to make was guaranteed. It included $3.75 million in base salary and $2 million reporting bonus. We might see him go back to the Chiefs on a cheaper deal, but they do have Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West, and maybe even C.J. Spiller, although he is a longshot to make the roster. Charles does have a career 5.5 yards-per-carry average, the best in NFL history (although in just 103 games), but teams will be wary of what he can still do and what they’re willing to pay him, even if he is insisting that he’s 100% healthy again.