Adrian Peterson is back. OK. Now what?
For the moment, let's not get into whether he should be back—whether a player should be back after he did this to a four-year-old child and showed only cockiness and arrogance, daring his team to release him, when he should have shown contrition.
When he returns, can he still be productive? At 30 years old, will we still see the old Peterson?
My guess: We will see the same bullying, nasty, tornadic on-field punisher that we saw before. My guess: We will see see that force in a Vikings uniform, though there is a definite chance it's a Cowboys one instead.
I asked two general managers about Peterson's return, and they told me they believe three teams are in play for him: the Cowboys, the Cardinals and the Raiders.
"The Cowboys are the front-runners," one said, "but I actually believe the Raiders are right there."
But these general managers also think Peterson's $12.75 million salary is, in one's words, "an anchor around Peterson's neck."
"Few teams will be willing to take him, at his age, with that salary," the GM said.
Still, no matter where he ends up, we will see the old AP, churning and chugging and running dudes over, rewarded, in a way, for his crime, as sitting out most of a year was likely one of the best things to ever happen to Peterson professionally. There's every chance that the time away from the field—away from the hits and brutality of the sport—will extend his career and he will once again be great.
If that happens, if I'm right, it would go against all historical trends involving older runners. There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and running backs losing steam once they hit 30.
I want you to consider this important statistic. Peterson turned 30 last month. In the last five seasons, only two running backs, aged 30 or more, have rushed for 1,000 yards.
Just two in five years. Again, history says Peterson will crumble under the force of gravity and age. Almost no great back has beaten time after 30. Not Eric Dickerson. Not Emmitt Smith. They all aged quickly after they passed that dreaded number.
But there are two reasons Peterson will beat the trend. First: the year off.
He has been out of football for a long time (he played one game last year before being indicted), and while running backs age in dog years, they also heal in dog years. A year away from the sport means all of those aches and pains are gone. It's true that Peterson will be rusty, but he'll get over that rust quickly. He's been in the league since 2007. He's a vet. He knows. He just knows.
That year off, and the fact he isn't coming off a major injury, are huge.
The other reason Peterson will succeed: He's unbelievably talented.
Not sure how great a guy he is off the field, but on it, I've always thought that he was the second coming of Jim Brown. Like Brown, he's been able to reach dizzying numbers and accomplish remarkable things despite mostly being his team's sole offensive threat.
|Adrian Peterson career stats|
How hard is it to rush for 2,000 yards, as he did in 2012, with Christian Freaking Ponder at quarterback? Impossible. And yes, I thought Ponder would be good in the NFL. And yes, he was decent that year. Still, no defensive coordinator stayed up late game-planning for Christian Freaking Ponder.
Every defense the Vikings faced had every resource targeted at Peterson, and still he destroyed people. To me, Peterson is a top-10 all-time back. Anyone with that kind of talent and a fresh body from some time off will pick up right where he left things.
If Peterson does stay in Minnesota, he would return to a team that has a good future. A great one, actually. I could see the Vikings challenging for a Super Bowl in two to three years. They have the quarterback, and the pieces around that quarterback are starting to emerge. They could be dangerous.
Peterson is superhuman enough where he could beat the Curse of the 30-Year-Old Back for two or three more years. He's that much of a freak.
No, I'm not so certain about Peterson the guy. What I am certain about is that we will see him being great again.
We will see the old AP.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.