Should the Vikings Trade Adrian Peterson?

Peterson scoring

Following their disastrous one-game experiment with Josh Freeman under center this past Monday night, it's pretty clear that this current Minnesota Vikings season is an utter train wreck, and things don't appear poised to get much better. Not only did the game result in the Vikings falling to the previously winless New York Giants, but they somehow elected to put the ball in Adrian Peterson's hands just 15 times (13 carries, 2 receptions) and let Freeman throw 53 passes in his first game with his new team.

Now in last place at 1-5 in a very competitive NFC North, it's time for the Vikings to start trying to rebuild for future seasons, and so rumors have naturally started to circulate around their reigning MVP winner. And GM Rick Spielman should listen to any offers that come his way.

Ordinarily it would be a bad idea to trade away a franchise running back that is coming off of one of the greatest seasons in NFL history. But despite their playoff appearance last year, the Vikings have a lot of areas of need and a league-high 62 percent of their 2014 cap dollars allocated to the offense. That's an unsustainable number, especially when it doesn't include any quarterbacks who are long-term solutions.

Right now the best thing that the Vikings can do for their future success is to compile as many draft picks as possible. They currently have one extra third rounder left from the Percy Harvin trade, and could get some more if they trade Jared Allen, but their most valuable commodity is of course Adrian Peterson, whose value will never be higher than it is right now.

Right now the best thing that the Vikings can do for their future success is to compile as many draft picks as possible.

Peterson is 28 and still in his prime, but given the history of running backs' peaks dropping off precipitously in their early 30s, he's likely on the tail end of it. That makes him an ideal fit for a team whose championship window is still open (i.e. the Patriots) or at least has already started their upward progress (i.e. the Dolphins).

How long can that prime really last given his bruising running style and surgically repaired knee (insert PED-enhanced recovery joke here)? If we're being optimistic about it, it's fair to assume that he has 2-4 years of production as a top-3 running back left in the tank.

The problem is that the Vikings' franchise QB isn't currently on the roster, and even if they're able to draft a stud prospect like Teddy Bridgewater, you have to figure that the new QB won't be at a level to really compete for a Super Bowl for at least two more years. That means the Vikings would be taking a pretty big risk that they'll be able to match up the primes of their aging franchise halfback and their hypothetical franchise quarterback.

Underlying all of this is the fact that feature running backs are a commodity of diminishing importance in the modern NFL, as a glimpse at recent Super Bowl winners shows:

Year SB Winner Leading Rusher Yards League Rank
2012 Ravens Ray Rice 1143 11
2011 Giants Ahmad Bradshaw 659 32
2010 Packers Brandon Jackson 703 33
2009 Saints Mike Bell 654 32
2008 Steelers Willie Parker 791 26
2007 Giants Brandon Jacobs 1009 15
2006 Colts Joseph Addai 1081 18
2005 Steelers Willie Parker 1202 12
2004 Patriots Corey Dillon 1635 3
2003 Patriots Antowain Smith 642 30

Got that? Of the past 10 champions, only one had a running back finish in the top-10 in rushing, and that team just so happened to have Tom Brady in his prime under center. This is a pass-first league now; it's simply unwise to try to build a Super Bowl contender around one running back, even if it is Adrian Peterson.

Granted, this is not exactly ground-breaking football philosophy here, as most teams have already embraced the idea of winning through a strong quarterback and a shared backfield. So the Vikes might not be able to get the king's ransom that some believe that they can by trading Peterson (something like multiple high picks, including a first rounder, and a legitimate roster player).

If that turns out to be the case, if Spielman can't get a bevy of picks to help complete the roster rebuild that he started with the Harvin trade, then he shouldn't make a move. But the negotiations have to happen, and the team has to be willing to sacrifice its best most popular current player in order to win in the future.

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