The Unusual Reason an Adrian Peterson Trade Between the Cowboys and Vikings Could Benefit Both Teams

Last updated 6-22-15

Many NFL trades can easily help one team while not really benefiting, or even possibly hurting, the other.

For example, one team assesses the overall situation better, and simply receives more in terms of value for their team than what they gave up; and despite different needs or “philosophies,” the same doesn’t apply to their trading partner.

Exceptions occur when each of the involved teams has very different weak links, and the trade legitimately helps fill both of them.

So, for example, more often than not a trade for a good running back harms one team and helps the other. Or it’s neutral. That is, unless one team has a plethora of great running backs, or backs with particular skill sets – such as great hands and blocking skills – and the other team doesn’t have any. And the team weak in backs in return fills a different need for their trading partner; one that doesn’t give up the same or greater ultimate value to their team (such as a high draft pick for instance) in the process.

But the Adrian Peterson situation is a little unique for a few reasons. And because of the oddities involved, Peterson can elect to bring something to the deal that may make a trade for him between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings – if structured correctly – advantageous for both teams. (The fact that the Cowboys are being reported to have less overt interest in trading for Peterson since the first draft of this piece was written almost two weeks ago, doesn’t mean they aren’t interested, or that the possibly unique factors to a Vikings Cowboys Peterson trade don’t still apply.)

To get a feel for why most of the trade ideas being bandied about (with the exception possibly of John Clayton’s, for instance) would be a gain for the Minnesota Vikings, and a loss for their trading partner, and then how Peterson might be able to make a trade between the Cowboys and Vikings make sense for both teams, let’s take a closer look at the issue:

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Former Cowboys’ running back Demarco Murray’s average yard per carry dropped remarkably in college from his first two, to his last two, college seasons. But he’s been relatively solid since entering the league as a strong value pick in the 3rd round of the 2011 NFL draft. Then he tore it up last season. (1,845 yards, though his ypc, at 4.7, was a little lower than his career high in of 5.1, over the course of 1,121 yards rushing, which he hit the year before.)

The Cowboys, however, recently lost Murray in free agency, They also lost him to a pricey, possibly not too exorbitant contract with division rival Philadelphia. Philly, in turn, had given up their star “Slim Shady” LeSean McCoy, in a startling trade with the Bills in return for star 3rd year linebacker Kiko Alonso.

Yet the team from Dallas may have a better running back right now than people think. (And if the Cowboys truly are a little less interested than they seemingly were, or that people presumed, this could be part of the reason why.) Demarco Murray has consistently been good, and had a great year last season; but he may have also greatly benefited from an exceptional Dallas offensive line.

Cowboys new running back Darren McFadden, who comes over from Oakland at a fraction of the price that Murray commanded, had the opposite “benefit”; repeatedly getting hammered behind the line of scrimmage. In fact, Murray reportedly leads the league over the last three years in total number of times hit behind the line of scrimmage.

Some of that could be McFadden’s doing, but much of it likely wasn’t. And for much of the time McFadden also had the relative detriment of a team that also had a fairly insubstantial passing game, and one of the most consistently challenged offenses in the NFL. (McFadden also holds a lifetime 4.1 ypc average, which behind that Oakland line may not compare too poorly to Murray’s 4.8 behind the Dallas line.)

Though good opportunities or not, McFadden has often not looked as good as the promise he showed very early on (or as good as he looked coming out of college, where he was the 4th pick overall in 2008), and more importantly has been fairly injury prone.

Adrian Peterson, meanwhile, is one of the best running backs to ever play in the NFL, and the best pure running back in the NFL the last few seasons, bar none. (Though Peterson turned 30 toward the end of March. While McFadden, almost two and a half years younger, will turn 28 this August.)

So how could a trade “possibly” benefit both the Vikings and Cowboys? And why would most of the suggestions that talk of high picks going to the Vikings in return for acquiring Peterson under his current contract, would heavily favor the Vikings at the expense of their trading partner?

A fey key considerations that are often overlooked come into important play here:

The first is that it’s not just about how good a player is, it’s about how much a player’s cost is relative to how good he is. In other words, in a salary cap league, it’s about dollar value.

There is a limitation on this though:”Player availability.” There’s no unlimited supply of players for teams that maximize cap dollars to choose from, as most are under contract with other teams. So simply spending the “right” amount is only part of the full equation – the team still needs to get good players, or good potential players, one way or another.

But the free agent, or “available” player pool is relatively small to begin with. since the supply of players actually available is very limited. So sometimes getting the right players is challenging, particularly when combined with utilizing salary space wisely.

Due to its nature, free agency also sometimes results in a casual or de-facto bidding competition. This can further limits teams’ ability to pick up good value relative to the money spent; at least for the more marquee and some of the better known players. And it almost makes it a good strategy to sit back and let other teams pick up pricey offseason free agents.

But doing that then limits the “true” pool of available players for salary cap maximizing decisions even further.

So while teams have to maximize their value in terms of what they pay out in salary, the pool of practical available opportunity to do so is somewhat limited. And but for the rare free agent who has been widely undervalued by the rest of the league, the opportunity to do so for great value relative to the salary spent is extremely low.

That is, with one extremely notable, and extremely undervalued exception: The NFL draft. The draft presents a nearly unlimited pool of potential NFL players, many of whom will turn out to be very good.

And, there’s a second, also extremely important component to the draft that isn’t available to teams when going after free agents: The huge possibility of extra value versus the salary paid.

This exists because new draftees are just entering the league and are paid less, and because their multi-year contracts are usually based on their draft position. (Rookie salaries are also limited by a separate pool, but this pool only places a secondary limit; it’s not exclusive to the team’s overall salary cap, which includes all salaries, including rookies’.) And for most draft choices, these contracts tend to be fairly modest.

This offers tremendous upside relative to salary for most draft picks, and gives limited downside: The salaries are usually already low, and, aside for small signing bonuses in most cases, are unilateral: The team can always let a player go and cut even small losses further. Thus there’s almost no downside risk, and very high upside since a player can easily outperform the value of his contract several times over.

As a result, between the key opportunity to tap into a far wider pool of available talent, and the value side of being able to do so under the modest contract structure, most of the draft slots represent a great but somewhat hidden value. This is because many draft prospects turn out to be either solid or very good, and have very reasonable to excellent salaries relative to what is offered in terms of building and maintaining a dominant winning team.

Note that the top draft slots offer even more in the way of choice, but don’t offer as much of this hidden salary value because these choices often command a much higher multi year contract price. With often far more guaranteed money, meaning more of their “expected” value is already priced in, there is also more downside if the very top draft choices don’t work out well, and also less upside when the player is strong. (Albeit – and the overly focused on point of very high picks – at least this tends to be more often. But a college prospect’s NFL performance is still somewhat unpredictable.)

All of this makes mid to high draft choices extremely valuable – and, if not as valuable as the highest picks (even with the salary priced in most cases) – probably more valuable than most teams are realizing. And certainly more valuable than they are realizing based on examination of every draft trade, and many involving draft picks, going back a dozen or so years. (This gives a pretty good handle on how teams are valuing each slotted pick. Then there is also that “chart,” which is heavily relied upon, and which, along with draft valuation, warrants a book. But short version for NFL teams: Throw that chart out the window. Or hold onto it solely for use in negotiating favorable deals with other teams, who may be looking to the chart for guidelines, and your team can use it for leverage or assessment of what your potential trading partners might do or might be persuaded to do.)

This is also one of the hidden reasons why teams often make big mistakes when they “trade up” several otherwise solid picks, just to move up to one single very high number pick. (This mistake is also covered a little bit in The Hidden Challenge in NFL Draft Evaluation.) Thus normally any team with a high pick that can talk another team into giving them several in return should usually do it.

Yes the first team could have kept the pick and gotten a “star.” But they often pay a pretty hefty salary; so while it’s often worth it to pick that possible to sometimes likely star, a lot of the hidden value of excellent performance well above salary is gone by holding onto the very high selection, valuable as it otherwise certainly is.

And the player may turn out to be average, making the draft choice a negative for the team. Or, worse, and not so rare, the player may turn out out be a bust, or close enough. In either case, the team is paying more than the player winds up being worth, and in the latter far more so, and far more than most other draft choices, which is one of the no no’s of drafting, since drafting is the key value opportunity in NFL football.

On the other hand, while any draft choice can work out poorly after the fact, with far lower salaries the downside is far lower (as is the loss of having to cut a player and thus wind up getting very little from the pick, if the team otherwise has a lot of picks), whilemost of the hidden value of the several picks being lost in exchange is gone by trading them away in return for just one pick, and that real value often isn’t being fully recognized.

Bottom line: Draft choices matter, and are often far more underestimated in value than they are overestimated – particularly the middle and middle high picks.

On the other hand, as important as the draft is, there’s still the ever present issue of simple player availability and “need”: A draft provides broad opportunity. But it’s not unlimited. Giving a pick away for a good player to whom a team is already agreeing to pay a salary commensurate with his ability, is normally a bad move; but, while it does waste the upside value of the draft choice, and it doesn’t represent “salary cap” value, it can fill a perceived “need” for the team.  Well crafted, and when the need filled at least exceeds the cost being paid sufficient to make up for the loss of the draft pick, such a trade can make sense: Meaning the team still got good value for that player relative to their salary, has a huge need for that player in terms of their specific weaknesses and strengths – which also provides a little extra value to them on top of general market value – and these together are sufficient enough to outweigh the pure loss of the most valuable possession in football: A draft pick, and free opportunity to build your team with minimal downside, and huge upside.

But with trades there isn’t necessarily any built in value to the opportunity aside from the value which, by sharp assessment and decision making, teams create from their moves; just as with free agency acquisition. But that value can still be created by fashioning a trade which is at least beneficial to your team.

Aside from finding a trading partner who mis-perceives the value they are both giving up and receiving, the simplest way to do this (particularly since teams often don’t trade much) – is to create a trade which can benefit both teams:

Sometimes specific team needs, in terms of position strengths, weaknesses, depth or overall utilization of that position on the field can be different enough between trading partners so that trades, can be of benefit for both teams: even trades involving the more difficult to value draft choices, as most trades do.

Obviously all of this applies to the most fundamental task of having a successful, or even dominant, NFL franchise. That is, building and improving the team, and beside the key component of training, practice and on field execution and passion, the remaining two key components therein: The draft, and, secondarily, acquisition and improvement through other means – free agency and trades.

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But without Peterson, the Vikings have a need at running back just as the Cowboys do. Possibly even more – though given McFadden’s injury history it’s not a clear cut evaluation. There’s seemingly no major need divergence, and any divergence points to the Vikings perhaps needing a starting running back even more than the Cowboys.

So, barring one team making a mistake (which presently is the most likely possibility), how is value created for both teams?

The first possible relevant distinction between teams is that Peterson apparently doesn’t want to be associated with the Vikings. (So, frankly, if a deal was in theory a complete “wash,” it would be in the Vikings interest to do it, because there’s that unknown for them that doesn’t exist for other teams: The fact that Peterson may hold a bit of a grudge aginst the team, or at least not be very motivated to play for them. And even if that factor bears no relevance to his actual value to them (see below), one could also make an argument that if it’s otherwise no loss for the Vikings, given the situation it’s better from a human and business perspective to respect his wishes, since relative to a “neutral” trade it does the Vikings no good to not do so. Sure, there’s the argument of precedent setting for disgruntled players, but the Peterson situation is unique, as we’ll cover shortly, so it probably doesn’t apply.)

Last season, on the heels of the Ray Rice Roger Goodell Brouhaha, the Vikings suspended Peterson for aggressively using a “switch” – we can pretty much all agree – to greatly over-discipline his very young child. (Most experts, and I concur, say there’s no reason to ever hit a child. But if one disagrees with that, my suggestion is it should certainly be symbolic, mild, never with even a hint of anger, on a soft part of the body, accompanied by clear explanation, and extremely rare.) The NFL was already taking a public relations hit, and sensitive to matters involving NFL players given the Ray Rice incident and the rather poor way it was handled, many were outraged by Peterson’s seemingly medieval ways; and although he otherwise has a record of doing excellent charity work on behalf of children, it doesn’t excuse the discipline which if not in Peterson’s mind, at least in others’, crossed into abuse.

So the Vikings suspended him (before briefly unsuspending him, then doing so again for what ultimately became the entire season minus one game), even before our court system had weighed in on any culpability or recommendations, and before the NFL acted as well.

From Peterson’s perspective, though it’s not clear he had an issue with the idea of some disciplinary response from the team, he thought the Vikings acted hastily, made him into a bit of a pariah, and treated it as if the only thing that mattered was their appearance, regardless of their relationship with him.

Right or wrong, and despite questionable arguments like this one (see number 9, in an Adam Schein NFL article which also, by the way, suggests several draft day “move ups,” all of which are bad ideas for the reasons expressed in this piece and others), Peterson’s perspective in this regard is vaguely reasonable. Whether he should or shouldn’t want to play for the team is another question; but him not wanting to certainly doesn’t seem completely whimsical.

So, would he impart more value to another team than to Minnesota simply due to the fact that he might not play as well for them?

Likely not. Peterson’s a professional and an athlete first on the field, and it’s hard to say what role, if any, all this would eventually play; particularly since it’s a team game and he would ultimately be out there on the field both with and for his teammates as well. Many analysts have suggested he would play well for the Vikings if he remained, and while it’s hard to know for sure if a little something extra in terms of “spirit” would be missing or not, I tend to concur.

Another idea is the “one piece away” theory, common in the NFL. Thus, here, there’s the idea that Dallas is “one piece” away from a championship, while the Vikings aren’t, so Peterson is more valuable to Dallas.

While not worthless, this over relied upon notion should be used extremely carefully. Components to a team matter – improve your weakest links since that’s the room for the most improvement (and normally the easiest to acquire improvement at, relatively speaking, anyway), at the lowest cost.  But it’s a team game, and not usually a “one piece is missing” game. And improve your weakest links applies to all teams, not just “really good” teams.

Additionally, future team performance is usually less predictable than we think. In this case, while my (probably widely held) prediction is Dallas will be a better team than Minnesota in 2015, that’s only if forced to speculate at this moment; it’s not as clear cut as people think. (On the other hand, if they didn’t have such a poor offseason, and don’t also botch the upcoming draft as they have some of the past few drafts, I could say the Rams will be a team to watch out for in 2015, relative to their recent NFL history. They still likely will be to some extent.)

Dallas may continue to win, or fall back to being a strong team that nevertheless manages to toe up with the best in the league yet falls to 8-8. (Recall them in 2013 going head to head with a Denver team that almost no other team matched that year. Not always, but typically when lesser teams hang with a dominant team, it’s a lower scoring game; yet Dallas somewhat outplayed Denver in a major scoring fest, going toe to toe, round for round, the entire game. Remember also that before getting demolished in the Super Bowl, again by their offense being stifled, Denver in 2013 specifically was one of the more dominant teams in recent NFL history.)

Aside from Dallas, Minnesota may surprise, as they were an improving team last year, with a rookie quarterback who didn’t even get in a full season.

Who knows. But team’s are rarely so “one piece away.” And if they are that good, perhaps the lesser team that may not be as “lesser” as we or their management thinks, and for better value in return, could benefit more from that key piece that the better team thinks it’s “benefiting” more from.  And here it’s almost silly to say Dallas is Championship game bound with a great running back while Minnesota doesn’t have much of a chance. We don’t know, nor can they know. (By the start of the season however, players and coaches, if there is a specific intensity, can sometimes know their chances are very strong, despite public perception.)

The fact is, right now Minnesota may need a running back slightly more than Dallas, if anything – or at least the two teams are not lopsided in terms of disparate need.

So on balance – unless Peterson, albeit unlikely, simply wouldn’t give his all if stays with the Vikings – any argument overall that “Dallas will benefit more,”  from Peterson than the Vikings is probably just nice sounding words. (Though granted, there are a lot of those. In fact, the world is dominated by them.) Second year man Teddy Bridgewater, who showed promise in his rookie year at QB, might like having a nice running back to hand the ball off to and maybe entice defenses to crowd the box.

Again, barring a desire on the part of Minnesota to respect Peterson’s wishes despite the fact they clearly don’t have to, or a reasoned belief he won’t play as well for them as he would for another team, there’s really little way for a trade for Peterson to make great sense for one team, while not in reality hurting the other, or otherwise simply being a “neutral.”

But Peterson can do something that can create value for both teams: And at the same time – if at 31 years old he is no longer the same running back next year – decrease the chances of his new suitor accepting their losses and after giving up a high draft pick and nearly thirteen million dollars, waive him next season to save an additional 15 million dollars (plus 17 million for the following season.)
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It’s been suggested that Dallas give up a first round pick for the trade. (One analyst I love listening to for his football insight, even if I sometimes don’t agree, even casually suggested two first rounders – which would be close to highway robbery by the Vikings.)  But a first rounder, under Peterson’s current salary, isn’t even close to equitable.

Peterson has three years remaining on his contract, and a team trading anything of legitimate worth for him would likely lose value if they didn’t employ him for all three years; or at least two, pending the details of the trade. This season he’s due to make $12.75 million. Almost thirteen million. Next season it goes up to $14.75 million; almost 15 million. The season after that – 2017, in which Peterson will be 32 years old – it goes up to almost 17 million dollars.

That’s a lot of coin, to use an already well coined expression.

Seemingly chilling views on child discipline aside (views that have probably now been adequately quashed by input from many, and the experience), given the opportunity Peterson has done a lot for kids with his charity work, was raised to believe his strange discipline tactics were right, and seemingly loves his kid and (not that it makes up for abusive “discipline), otherwise may be a good enough dad. Yet his team didn’t seem to support him in the least.

Community, country, legal system, no one has to support Peterson. But his team could have at least stepped up a bit and had some loyalty to their own player, given that a football team is not our justice system, even if the broader NFL sometimes tries to be.

Players may get uptight or have too many imagined grievances. It’s in our nature as people. And Peterson did a wrong. But if his view is “I don’t really want to play for the Vikings,” it may not be completely unreasonable in one sense.

In other sense, former GM extraordinaire Bill Polian, who called the idea of Peterson playing for another team a “complete fantasy,” has a valid point we all know: he’s under contract. (And Minnesota seems to need a running back.)

But the idea that Peterson may play for another team, although unlikely, is not – as Polian put it recently  “not reality.” (Note, Polian, who usually gives excellent insight and is worth listening to, made the statement, along with the suggestion that Peterson possibly playing for another team was “not reality,” on Sirius’ “Late Hits”probably around two weeks ago; and the first draft of this piece – wherein the line suggesting it was reality, if unlikely, for Peterson to play for another team – was written shortly thereafter. I think Polian was overly keyed in on reasonably refuting the idea that Peterson could just demand to be traded and thus “be traded” simply because he “didn’t like the way the Vikings handled something,” where, aside from a personal wrong, he had more broadly committed a wrong as well under the NFLPA, and got caught.)

Trades are reality, and the Vikings could very easily make a trade, and may have some incentive to do so. And, depending on how badly he wants to play for another team – say Dallas, for example, Peterson’s alleged favorite team and one he ostensibly would really like to play for – and how badly he doesn’t want to play for the Vikings, an unusual but potent wild card enters into this picture that could make the trade manageable, even potentially beneficial, for both teams.

First, recapping why it’s not without something else added to the mix: Minnesota would likely want (and expect) a high draft pick of better for Peterson. Dallas, or any other team, would be giving up too much value on their part to part with such a pick on top of the fact that Peterson already commands a very high salary. (And the fact is, while he’s a fantastic runner, some of his extra yardage came from the fact that he could lower his head and bowl people over – which he was good at. Now if it that’s done in a clear and direct way, it’s a penalty. Could be coincidence, but worth noting: In Peterson’s one season after the new rule was passed his average yard per carry dropped to 4.5, a full half yard below his lifetime average (an average that includes his last year playing – 2013 – where he had that 4.5 average).

But there are two components, the lesser, and first of the two being again that Peterson in theory might not play quite as hard for Minnesota as for another team.

Suppose Minnesota believes, or has reason to believe, that a disgruntled Peterson will play hard for them, but perhaps not with the same fire he might otherwise have. Even if not, Peterson could somewhat convincingly tell them: “I will run hard, but I feel like you – my team – abandoned me in my darkest hour after a terrible mistake, and so I won’t have that deep burning desire I had, and won’t be able to give it may all.” (He could also be bluffing, or mean it when he says it but later realize he’s a football player. You play. It’s what non professional athletes who are competitive and love giving it their all do. And though the hitting can be a little more unpleasant in the NFL – where a focus on hitting hard has sometimes transcended even a focus on correct tackling technique – it’s what football players who are professional, particularly if they love the game, do.)

On the other hand, Dallas has perennially been an average to above average team, and as an unusually good road team and poor home team last season out played Green Bay in Green Bay (where from early mid season on GB was dominant, and Green Bay then should have beaten the Seahawks in the Championship game in Seattle; and as we all know, the Seahawks came within a hair of beating the Patriots in Super Bowl 49.) So, while hard to predict, a Dallas first rounder for 2016 stands a good chance of being a late first rounder. This spring they pick 27th – very late.

Minnesota may not realize the extra value late first round picks present. There is much less salary cost, but almost as much upside player potential as with a higher pick. But they still recognize much of that value, and it is still a “first round pick.”

But on the flip side this is still a huge amount to give up, for the same reasons stated above: Player pool availability is limited, but virtually unlimited draft wise, and low first round picks are near perfect opportunities to tap it, with tremendous upside, and relatively low downside.

Ditto, if slightly mildly, for a second rounder, and, frankly – again considering that for a 30-32 year old running back being paid almost 15 million a year, and the fact that high middle draft picks are undervalued – to some extent for a third rounder as well. (I’m not sure, at least if I was Dallas, that I would even trade a trade a fourth rounder, as John Clayton predicted would be the trade, since McFadden might turn out to be pretty solid, and 15 million per year can purchase a lot of team improvement when used wisely. I think Clayton was more realistic in assessing what a reasonable trade would approach, but I also disagree with it as a “prediction”: I can almost guarantee – barring the extremely unlikely event of teams getting hold of and believing what is in this piece you’re reading, that if Peterson is traded it is for something higher than a 4th rounder.)

Now here’s the twist, the extra value for both teams, in terms of a trade, that Peterson could create if he wanted.

Peterson in theory could sit out. This is normally a bad move, unless a player really doesn’t want to play, and doesn’t care about the money.  If he sat out, he’d make nothing. There also don’t appear to be any real signs this is a possibility (but who knows, strange things do happen).

He could also play for a team he ostensibly really doesn’t want to play for.

Now enter Dallas. It just so happens that given the loss of Murray and McFadden’s recent history and heavy injury pattern, that they may have dropped at running back. (Again, it’s hard to tell because McFadden has upside, and so is a bit of a wild card here, but his salary is relatively low, about $3m/yr.)

Picking up Peterson would strengthen them, and if McFadden isn’t strong any more, or he gets injured – both possibilities, particularly the second given his history of foot problems – it would strengthen them a lot. (And ditto for some other teams.)

So, what if Dallas could get additional “value” for Peterson as well, that isn’t available for Minnesota: That is, Minnesota gains more by letting Peterson go, than Dallas gives up by acquiring him.  And they may be able to, depending on Adrian Peterson.

Another team could do this as well; several need running backs, and the most likely candidate for a trade appears to be the Cardinals, who will likely overcompensate for Peterson if such a trade is announced. Peterson could slightly facilitate such a trade as well, since it means he’s out of Minnesota, but it’s not Dallas, who’s apparently Peterson’s favorite team and a team he would reportedly love to play for. Yet in theory all of this could apply to Arizona as well, if Peterson is willing. And if so it might make more sense for Arizona, because again, the McFadden wild card is not necessarily a large “weakness” at running back for the Cowboys.)

This extra value could come in two forms. First, it could come in the form of enthusiasm. Peterson is a Cowboys fan. How cool to be able to play for your favorite football team. Yet even if combined with the “chance” Peterson won’t reach as deep down to play hard for Minnesota, this is probably slight.

Second, it could come in the form of money. This is not slight.

Though it may seem odd to some, once one has “enough” (different amounts for different people and philosophies) more money doesn’t really matter as much. Living comfortably Peterson can already be set for life. Sometimes people with a lot of money, including some players, see this, and employ it. Peterson may just want to play, and may be willing to restructure his deal to play for the team he wants to play for, and not for the team that he doesn’t want to have anything to do with after last season. (Note also that in 2016 and 2017 he will be 31 and 32, and making near 15 and 17 million, none of which is apparently guaranteed, and barring stellar performance he may be waived or possibly asked to restructure first anyway.)

On the one hand, one could look at this and say “but he’s giving up millions!” But on the other he’s getting paid to play running back in the NFL. You get hit hard, but if you can keep out of the way of concussions (and that new lowering of the head rule benefits Peterson in terms of avoiding concussions as well) and hopefully keep your knees together, running with the ball doesn’t have to destroy running backs, and often doesn’t. (We’re made to run, even cut, despite popular opinion; just not constantly be hit and torqued in the knees by others.)

Getting paid to play running back is pretty cool. It’s like a bonus, since running back, for those who truly like football, including the hitting, is a lot of fun. Playing hard, for hard playing athletes (whether crappy athletes who just like to play and who are rugged, or star athletes), is fun.

And Peterson would be paid millions to do is. A big improvement on last season.

Thus, the wild card twist. Peterson plays a little poker with the Vikings (who may be fully aware he’s doing it, but it still serves its purpose)

I was fine not playing last year. Football bangs up my knees, concussions damage the brain long term, I’ve made money, you guys abandoned me last year as I was made out to be a national pariah, I’m fine – even happy, sitting out. I want you to trade me, but if you don’t, I may be almost as happy just not playing, or just doing my duty, but is it worth 13, then 15, then 17 million to you?

Depending on how well he or his agent delivers it, and how much he means it, the Vikings could legitimately buy into this a little bit. And more importantly buy into the fact that they may have a running back who is perhaps semi-legitimately pissed at them, and doesn’t really see the point in staying loyal, contract or no contract. Businesses break contracts, and teams have the right to drop them while the player’s still  “on the hook.” That is, Peterson can’t break the contract, but they can’t force him to play. He just sacrifices his rights under it.  Better they all make a clean start. It’s what you sometimes do in the NFL.

Enter Peterson again, and now with the key addition:

Why don’t you trade me, that way you win, I’m not so disgruntled – which means you win again – and I might even restructure a bit to make a trade where you get adequately compensated, make sense.”

If the Vikings are thinking, this does make sense. They lose his salary, a gain to them of almost 13, then almost 15, then almost 17 million dollars. A total of a little over $44 million over 3 years (unless they wound up later waiving him anyway, making trading him now more valuable for them, not less). And they pick up value in the form of a draft pick. And they don’t have a guy on the roster who doesn’t want to play for them despite the fact they were paying him a lot of money to.

But the trade has to make sense for another team as well. Enter shrewd Dallas, who recognizes the value of draft picks, but doesn’t have much else to offer the Vikings. They have McFadden, the wild card, but on one hand he’s an unknown to semi disappointment by this point, and there’s that extensive injury history.

How about a running back who can absolutely pound it, who wants to for their team, and who they don’t need to break the bank to get?

Adrian P knocks off a few to several million a year from his current salary.  That represents a few to several million in value per year the Cowboys are getting, at least in theory, for a year or two any way. And since the last two years are the most unreliable in terms of prediction, Peterson and his agent knock more off the back two years, so if he works out reasonably well, the Cowboys save a bundle versus having to keep him at a whopping 15 and 17 million a year in ’16 and ’17 (or even cut him and devalue the initial acquisition, and loss of a draft pick for it, in the first place.) .

Now, unless Peterson gave up a LOT (which he may well do because he doesn’t want to play for Minnesota and does wan to play for Dallas and may want to help them) the deal still doesn’t make perfect sense for Dallas.

A late 1st rounder is still too much. (Minnesota may not see if that way for the same reason that Dallas may be willing to do it even with a modest salary reduction for Peterson; but Peterson can sell it as per above.)

So Minnesota throws in a 3rd or 4th round pick in 2016. Ideally Dallas should press for a 3rd rounder, in which case Dallas suddenly swapped their (late) 1st rounder for a mid 3rd rounder – a significant value drop off, no doubt – but picks up probably still the best running back in the NFL, at a substantial discount, which discount can be used to sign more players. At least in theory, though again it will still take ongoing work given the limited player pool, but opportunities always abound for the prepared team. And at least they didn’t lose a net draft pick. A 3d rounder isn’t nearly as valuable, but its still a pretty strong – and underrated – pick, and at least gives Dallas the same number of choices.

The Vikings lose a disgruntled player who was from one perspective possibly legitimate in his desire to move on from the team after a bizarre 2014 – and gain enormous amounts of cap space and savings – and now have two first round picks this or next spring!

From the Cowboys’ perspective, it could be worth getting the Vikings 4th rounder instead of 3rd (a sizable drop off) if Peterson convinces them he is really to fly and cuts off at least a few million a year, giving them back at least that value they gave up and giving them the additional benefit of then having Peterson – which even at his current (higher) salary, if he still runs well, is probably worth it. (Certainly it would for the Cardinals, and perhaps for another team. But again I would be surprised if the Cardinals or another team doesn’t both pay Peterson more, and give up more, if such a deal does in fact occur.)

Another option is to have Peterson lower his salary for Dallas, and Dallas gives up a 3rd rounder.(Or a 3rd rounder plus they swap a 6th in return for a 7th to give the Vikings a little extra value to boot, since Dallas also only has their one pick late in the round 3rd round this spring, and a late 3rd rounder is different from an early 3rd rounder.)

But again Minnesota may not be as keen on that.Then again they may if Peterson sells his disinterest in football, or at least disinterest in Minnesota, sufficiently; why have a player on the roster being paid a fortune who doesn’t really want to be there, when you can save the fortune and gain some value for it.

The key here is the extra value that Peterson has the power to create given his high salary, and his strong desires (pro – Cowboys, con – Vikings). If offered, and they can’t possibly negotiate for any more from anyone else, the Vikings would probably be foolish or stubborn to pass this up:

The fact that they were not required to suspend Peterson, Peterson was not initially suspended by the league, and yet the Vikings instead suspended him indefinitely and he didn’t play for almost the entire season, means that while it is fine for them to legitimately hold him to his contract, they should also respect his wishes to not play for them if a way can be found to accomplish this that also benefits the Vikings simultaneously, or at the very least leaves them as well off in terms of overall potential and value, as they were.

The deal as just laid out doesn’t hurt the Vikings, and would probably benefit them – they’re saving many many millions. It would, at least based upon potential, likely benefit the Cowboys as well – they’re getting a player plus the extra value of those millions shaved off each year that they can now apply back to their salary cap and later player acquisition or rollover; and it would benefit Peterson, since it gets him what he wants if he was willing to do this. He may not be willing, but it could make sense from his perspective. Easy to miss, money really isn’t everything, particularly when you have a lot of it.

It probably won’t happen. But it could. And more importantly, it would make more sense for all parties involved. Unless Peterson just wants the higher salary. But again, that very high – and on a now aging player, creeping higher – salary, is the wild card here, that, due to special circumstances, can create value. It makes possible what Peterson can bring to the table to make the move worthwhile and get accomplished what he wants – out of Minnesota, in a way that allows Minnesota to do it, and that also benefits his new team:

The Dallas “Darren McFadden” Cowboys.

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