Should the Minnesota Vikings Trade Adrian Peterson?


Last week, Tom Powers of the Pioneer Press suggested that the Minnesota Vikings should consider trading Adrian Peterson. Ridiculous, right? I mean, you don’t jump on Super Man’s cape, you don’t spit into the wind, you don’t pull the mask of the old Lone Ranger and you don’t go trading Adrian Peterson.

Here’s the thing. He’s right, if they get a haul. That is, of course, a big if today. The best thing is often the uncomfortable thing. Let me just start by emphasizing that the Vikings must get a haul of picks and not just a first rounder, or a first and second rounder. Individual draft picks, even those early in the draft, are highly variable and plenty fail to pan out. Only 28% of players who were drafted in picks 11 to 20 from 1989 to 2008 made a pro bowl even once in their first five seasons. Those would be the same seasons that you would be trading away from Peterson.

Minnesota, of course, has a history of running back trades, and being on the other end of it. In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys traded a 27 year old Herschel Walker to Minnesota for a haul of players and picks, five veteran players and seven more draft picks in total. General Manager Mike Lynn said at the time: ‘If we don’t win the Super Bowl while Herschel Walker is here, then we have not made a good trade. And that’s the truth.'”

If you don’t think the attitude and perception of Walker was similar to how Peterson is viewed, then you would be wrong. The difference, of course, is what teams are willing to give up for running backs now versus twenty-four years ago. Peterson is a year older, but I broke down Walker and his USFL and NFL career earlier this year, and he was a true star at the time of the trade.

It would not take something as extreme as a Herschel Walker type haul, though, to make a trade of Peterson a viable decision.

Here’s a breakdown of every NFL running back, plus Herschel Walker, to have 7,500 or more yards from scrimmage between ages 23 to 27. (A couple of exceptions–still active players are excluded, and Terrell Davis is excluded as being hurt before age 28). This breakdown lists how many times, between age 29 and 33, they reached certain milestones in a season, such as 1600 YFS (pro bowl caliber), 1200 YFS (good starter) or 800 YFS (quality contributer). These are the best running backs of all-time, a group with which Peterson keeps good company.

Adrian Peterson is 28 this year, and will be 29 by next season. Only five of the seventeen players had an elite year with more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage at age 29 or older. Herschel Walker is right around the middle of the group, and his trade was so lopsided it was Dallas in a landslide. Only five of the players had at least 1,200 yards in three or more seasons at 29 or older.

What would be equal value? Let’s for now, set aside the money aspect, because that will favor draft picks, in a big way. But remember, we want to win this trade on the field in order to make such a controversial move, not just “get value”. Let’s just talk performance.

5.9% of those elite running back seasons from age 29 to 33 produced an all pro. 16.5% produced a pro bowl year. If we want to trade a star, how much do I need back to get an equivalent chance of having pro bowl and all pro seasons during the rookie portion of those deals?

I went through the drafts from 1989 to 2008 to compare. I am figuring I am only getting a late first rounder the first year, dealing him to a “win now” team in the playoff picture. Anything can happen a year later, so we will figure a generic middle of the round first for future picks.

Here is what I would need to break even, to move him before the deadline (or after the season):

  • A 2014 late first round pick;
  • A 2015 first round pick;
  • A 2014 second round pick;
  • A 2014 third round pick (which I will gladly change to a 2015 second rounder because the inflation rate is out of whack)

I get those, and assuming I am an average drafter and Adrian Peterson is your typical “best running back of a generation” caliber back entering age 29, I should be favored to win the “who gets more elite seasons in the next five years” question against the team getting Peterson. I also get it for much cheaper, and I get diversification, and upside to have multiple star players and hit it really big.

Now, that’s not to say I will trade for that, only that is my BATNA, for which I will just enjoy the Peterson later years if I don’t get at least that. It is not worth the negative press and the groans and the year of rebuild while those picks are rookies if I don’t get that chance of elite performance coupled with value.

Everyone is tradable. The Vikings should be in rebuilding mode, because last year’s surge with a historic year from Peterson to a playoff spot kind of masked the steady decline since 2009 in the roster. Jared Allen is 31 and his window will close in the next two years; Kevin Williams’ is closing. There are pieces (Kalil) but question marks (secondary, quarterback) that will need sorted out. I know people say that running backs are not as valued and you are not getting a Herschel Walker trade. You don’t need it, just half. In a league where Marty Hurney has paid all the running backs, I’m not ruling out someone exceeding my limits set above. I would at least consider it, if anyone will go there.