Cut to 2017, and the future Hall of Famer is on his third team in less than a year, traded to the Arizona Cardinals on Tuesday after a tenure in New Orleans that was as disappointing as it was short.
While Peterson will at least get a chance to play in Arizona given the Cardinals' injury-ravaged backfield, it's fair to wonder whether the move signifies the opening of a new door or the door's closing on his NFL career.
ESPN's Dianna Russini broke the news that the 32-year-old had been dealt for a conditional draft pick:
That a no-doubt Canton enshrinee was traded for the NFL equivalent of a bag of Funyuns tells you all you need to know about Peterson's time in the Big Easy.
Sure, there were smiles and big talk in the offseason after the Saints signed the 11th-year veteran. And as recently as Monday, New Orleans running backs coach Joel Thomas told Nick Underhill of the Advocate that it was just a matter of time until Peterson got rolling.
"The numbers haven't matched what the expectations were on all ends," Thomas said. "He's handled it well. He's got football to give. It's just a matter of there's going to be a time when things start to bust, so to speak—and I mean that in a positive way. The dam's going to bust, and there's going to be some productivity and positivity out of the whole thing."
But the reality of the situation was that Peterson wasn't even a bit player in New Orleans. He carried the ball only 27 times and played just 44 snaps.
For all the insistence that all was well, one segment of video early in the season made it clear Peterson wasn't pleased with his new job of holding down a bench with his rear end.
According to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com, Peterson was all smiles when told to pack his bags:
It's not hard to see why.
He'll be seeing the field more now—possibly as early as Sunday in Glendale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With David Johnson lost to a fractured wrist, the Arizona ground game has been, well, grounded. Featuring a combination of Kerwynn "The Frog" Williams, Andre Ellington and the ghost of Chris Johnson, the Cardinals have put up just 259 total rushing yards and 2.6 yards per carry.
Both marks are dead last in the NFL.
The problem is that from all indications, the smile won't last in Arizona any more than in New Orleans. The Cardinals are swapping one ghost for another; they released Johnson to make room on the roster for Peterson.
In Peterson's last effective season (2015) he averaged 4.5 yards per carry, flirted with 1,500 rushing yards and scored 11 touchdowns on the ground.
That 2015 season feels like it happened in 1995. We haven't seen even a glimpse of that back since. Last year, Peterson missed most of the season due to a torn meniscus and averaged less than two yards per carry in three games.
|Adrian Peterson's Decline|
|Per Pro Football Reference|
This year, Peterson has looked every bit his age—a lumbering plodder who did nothing with the few touches he did get to earn more. A back who once peeled off 70-yard scores with alarming regularity hasn't posted a 15-yard run or found the end zone in two years.
Peterson is well past the age where the majority of backs begin to decline. He's carried the ball nearly 2,500 times in his career. And in 2014, 2016 and so far this year combined, he's rushed for 228 yards.
There's also the matter of Arizona's blocking, or lack thereof. A Cardinals O-line that's had its fair share of injuries ranks 24th in the league in run-blocking this year, per Football Outsiders. As Darren Urban of the team's website reported, Arizona offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin allowed that the Cardinals' issues running the ball go well past one player or position group.
"Being where we are, rushing in the league, is unacceptable," Goodwin said. "All the linemen, it's the tight ends, it's the running backs. We have to do a better job."
The notion that dropping Peterson into that situation is going to cure all that ails the Redbirds isn't optimism.
This isn't to say it was a bad trade—for either side. With Mark Ingram and promising rookie Alvin Kamara in the fold, the Saints had less than zero reason to continue enduring the distraction that Peterson's non-status with the team was causing.
And with the Cardinals' season teetering after last week's blowout loss in Philadelphia, Arizona had nothing to lose by rolling the dice. Peterson may well be a shell of his former self, but he'll still be the best between-the-tackles back (who's healthy, anyway) on the team the moment he enters the locker room.
But "best" is a highly relative term here. Peterson's days as the best back in the NFL are long gone. He won't be close to the best back in the NFC West.
It's understandable that after watching Peterson chew up defenses for so long, folks want to see him go out with a blaze of glory. Those fans will be wishing this trade gives him the starting opportunity he hoped for in New Orleans and that he can pull the Cardinals' rushing attack out of the proverbial toilet.
But the odds are much better that this is just a last gasp, both for an aging tailback and an Arizona team that is staring at a rebuild offensively next season.
All days end. Even All Day's.