EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Adrian Peterson has been away from the Minnesota Vikings for almost two months. If he’s allowed back this season, teammates would welcome him without hesitation.
That was the consensus from players as they left the practice field Nov. 4, shortly before Peterson avoided jail time and a trial on the child abuse charge against him with a plea agreement in Texas. No special address or apology would be necessary, they said.
“Guys have chatted amongst each other, and I don’t think there’s anyone in that locker room that would need to hear from him,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said. “We all know the kind of person Adrian is, and I feel like he’s proven that over his time here.”
So now the question is whether he will return to the Vikings this season. He has been on paid leave, making more than $690,000 each week, via a special roster exemption issued by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
That hiatus was the result of an intense deliberation by the team, the league, the union and Peterson, after the Vikings initially announced Sept. 15 he would be back in the lineup as usual after sitting out the team’s Sept. 14 home opener against New England on the heels of the indictment.
The public backlash to that decision was swift and strong, prompting the NFL and the Vikings to reconsider and shelve him while his case played out.
Now after his plea agreement, the focus of Peterson’s unprecedented story has shifted from the courtroom back to the league.
“We will review the matter, including the court record, and then make a determination on his status. We cannot provide a timetable,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
Earlier in the day, prior to the plea agreement, Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said the organization would withhold comment on Peterson’s situation “until it’s appropriate to speak.” About five hours after Peterson’s court appearance, the Vikings issued a 20-word statement acknowledging the plea agreement and delaying comment until “the appropriate time.”
NFLPA spokesman George Atallah declined to comment. Peterson’s agent, Ben Dogra, said he wasn’t “prepared to discuss anything at this time” but would “gladly do so at the appropriate time.”
The nameplate is still on Peterson’s cubicle in the locker room, filled with equipment just the way he left it. The offense has been different, of course, but with elusive rookie Jerick McKinnon and powerful overachiever Matt Asiata the backfield has been the least of the team’s concerns since Peterson was placed on leave.
McKinnon has two 100-yard performances and a total of 446 yards rushing, plus 106 yards receiving.
“I think we have a nice combination going with him and Matt, two different styles,” Spielman said. “Everybody’s seen what Matt can do last year when he got the opportunity and some of the things he’s doing this year.”
Asiata has a pair of three-touchdown games, with 277 yards rushing and 199 yards receiving.
Though Peterson would first have to prove he stayed in playing shape, his return would certainly reduce the workload for both Asiata and McKinnon. But despite the hit his image has taken in public, Peterson has long been a revered presence on the team, not to mention an elite talent.
“We’d be happy to have him back. He’s a leader on this team,” McKinnon said, adding: “Obviously if Adrian comes back he’s going to be the starting running back. It’s just one of those things where everybody has a role. Got to accept it.”
Peterson sent coach Mike Zimmer a message before the Sept. 28 game against Atlanta that was shared with the team. Many players have kept in touch with him since he was put on leave.
“He’s one of the best players in the world, and he’s obviously somebody who’s meant a lot to this community, meant a lot for the team,” fullback Jerome Felton said. “He’s one of our leaders. He was up here in the offseason. People follow his lead because of how hard he works. So it’d be pretty nice to add that back into the team.”
Said quarterback Teddy Bridgewater: “If he does come back, I’m pretty sure everyone would still take him in and welcome him with open arms.”
By Dave Campbell. AP Pro Football Writer Howard Fendrich in Washington and Associated Press Writer Juan Lozano in Houston contributed to this report