Over his 14 seasons in the National Football League, Adrian Peterson has done quite a bit. The No. 7 pick in the 2007 draft has rushed for 14,820 yards—fifth-most in NFL history. Peterson has topped 1,000 yards eight times. He has been named to the Pro Bowl seven times and has earned All-Pro honors on four occasions.
In 2012, Peterson had the second-best campaign by a running back in league history, finishing eight yards from Eric Dickerson's single-season record with 2,097. He was named the Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player.
Five years after Peterson hangs them up, he'll be a lock to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
However, despite all those accomplishments and the 36 candles on his birthday cake in March, the free agent isn't ready to call it a career—in part because for all he's done, there's one thing he hasn't.
Peterson has never played in a Super Bowl. In fact, he hasn't been to the playoffs since 2015 and has just one postseason victory in five tries.
As Nick Shook of NFL.com reported, Peterson told SiriusXM Radio that he hopes to play for a contender:
"I'm looking for a contender. I'm looking for a team that's built to go and chase a championship. That's my ultimate goal and I feel like I can really help to contribute in accomplishing that. A team with a good quarterback, a good defense and some playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. For me to be able to get into that type of situation would be perfect."
Peterson obviously isn't the player he once was—he averaged just 3.9 yards on 156 carries in his lone season with the Detroit Lions in 2020. He has also never been a big factor in the passing game, having topped 40 receptions just once (2009).
However, Peterson remains a physical between-the-tackles presence who rushed for 604 yards and seven touchdowns last season. As recently as 2018, he topped 1,000 yards and averaged a respectable 4.2 yards per carry. In 2019, he averaged 4.3 yards per attempt and finished with 898. He is in remarkable condition, having missed just one game over the past three years.
Peterson said he can be a contributor for the right team in 2021—and he loves toting the rock too much to walk away, via Shook.
"The love for the game. That's really the main thing that's driving me on top of wanting to win a championship," he said. "The love for the game. I'm going to be 36 years old. How many 36-year-old guys can say that they're playing in the NFL and are able to do it at a high level? That's my whole mindset.
"I want to look back and say: 'You know what, not only did I play because I love the game and I was chasing a championship, but I was able to do it. I was physically able to go out there and perform at a high level.' When I'm done, I'll be able to look back and say, 'You know what, I put my best foot forward and I ended on my terms.'"
If Peterson does latch on with a contender, he'll have to be a complementary option—his days as a lead back are over. But if he's willing to accept that role, there are several teams capable of a playoff run that make sense as landing spots.
For years, the Pittsburgh Steelers were defined by a hard-nosed defense and a bruising ground game. The former (led by edge-rusher T.J. Watt) remains stout, but the running game slowed to a halt last year.
The Steelers won 12 games and the AFC North, but it was despite the rushing attack—not because of it. Pittsburgh averaged a miserable 84.4 rushing yards per game, which ranked dead last in the NFL. And as if that weren't bad enough, its leading rusher (James Conner) is now with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Steelers' next-leading rusher from last season is fourth-year pro Benny Snell Jr., who averaged a whopping 3.3 yards per carry. There are no contenders with a more dire need in the backfield.
It's not exactly earth-shattering that several mock drafts forecast Alabama running back Najee Harris to Pittsburgh at No. 24.
Bringing in Peterson on a short-term deal wouldn't preclude the Steelers from doing that. What it would do is give them options since they also have major needs on the offensive line and at quarterback.
And a compelling argument can be made that Paterson was more effective than Snell last year.
As Kyle Crabbs of Dolphins Wire wrote, data collected by Benjamin Robinson of Grinding the Mocks show that 26 percent of mock drafters projected the Miami Dolphins to select a running back in the second round.
It's not hard to see why. Myles Gaskin was serviceable in pacing the Dolphins with 584 yards on 142 carries in 2020, but Miami fielded the league's 22nd-ranked ground attack, averaging 105.5 yards per game.
However, if the Dolphins choose to use their pair of second-rounders on other positions of need, such as the offensive line and edge-rusher, Peterson could make sense as a low-cost early-down complement to Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed, who are smaller, shiftier runners.
As a matter of fact, it's not out of the question that Peterson could lead such a committee in carries and rushing touchdowns.
Kansas City Chiefs
At least one member of the Kansas City Chiefs thinks they have this situation figured out. Just after news of Peterson's desire to play for a contender broke, three-time All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu took to Twitter with a solution.
The Chiefs would present Peterson with his best chance to win a championship this side of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chiefs have represented the AFC in each of the last two Super Bowls and won Super Bowl LIV.
They did so with running backs who were long in the tooth. In September 2019, the Chiefs signed LeSean McCoy, though he was inactive in the big game win over the San Francisco 49ers and played just one snap in the postseason. Last year, Le'Veon Bell was on the roster after signing in October, though he was inactive in the conference title game and didn't play in the Super Bowl LV loss to the Bucs.
Peterson might get more work than the 76 regular-season touches Bell (who averaged 4.0 yards per carry) got last season. But it wouldn't be a lot more—Peterson would back up Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who amassed 1,100 total yards after he was picked at the end of Round 1 in 2020.
That's the Kansas City conundrum for Peterson: His best shot to reach the Super Bowl would come with the team for which he'd get the least work.