Adrian Peterson could be running the ball for the New England Patriots next season — at least, according to rumors flying around the National Football League Tuesday after Peterson's team, the Minnesota Vikings, made a stunning announcement regarding the 31-year-old future Hall of Fame running back.
The Vikings on Tuesday announced that they have declined to pick up the 2017 option on Peterson's contract, meaning that Peterson will become an unrestricted free agent on March 9, free to sign with any team that wants him — and can pay him.
The Patriots are in need of a running back, and will attempt to acquire one by some means before the 2017 NFL season kicks off, according to the ESPN website's football expert Mike Reiss, who covers the team.
New England is likely to lose power back LeGarette Blount, as well as his backup Brandon Bolden, to unrestricted free agency. That leaves only smaller runners Dion Lewis and James White — whose star rose in Super Bowl 51 when he scored three touchdowns, including the championship winner for New England in overtime — plus D.J. Foster, a rookie in 2016 who carried the ball only seven times, gaining 24 yards.
Peterson, on the other hand, has rushed 2,418 times in his career for 11,747 yards, making him the 16th all-time NFL rusher, in terms of yardage gained.
But he is coming off a season truncated by injury in which Peterson appeared in only three games, carrying 37 times for just 72 yards.
The Patriots have frequently placed bets on once-great players on the tail end of their careers. Their 2004 signing of troubled former Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon at age 29 led that season to the third Patriots Super Bowl title, as Dillon piled up 1,635 yards, averaging over 109 per game.
But Reiss and other NFL experts say they are pessimistic about the Patriots and Coach Bill Belichick setting their sites on bringing Peterson to New England.
"I don't see the Patriots extending themselves financially for that need, especially when this year's draft is considered deep at the position," Reiss wrote on Tuesday. "Projecting that Peterson will have a market significantly north of the veteran minimum, it would surprise me if the Patriots are in the mix."Henry McKenna of the USA Today Patriots Wire blog also believes that Peterson would be out of Belichick's price range.
"Peterson fits the Patriots' mold of a veteran who is a good value due to his injury. He also might be willing to sacrifice a few million to win a championship. But he still won't be in the Patriots' range for a running back," McKenna wrote, adding that while Blount made a $1 million paycheck in 2016 — and produced 18 touchdowns and 1,161 yards — Peterson earned $7.7 million despite missing almost the entire year.
If not Peterson, who can Patriots fans expect to see coming out of the backfield next season, taking the handoff from soon-to-be 40-year-old quarterback Tom Brady?
NFL Network draft guru Mike Mayock believes the answer to that question will likely be Stanford University ball carrier Christian McCaffrey — if indeed McCaffrey is available with the 32nd overall pick, which is where the Patriots now stand.
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"I would be surprised if he lasted that long," Mayock said in an interview Monday. "The NFL's become a matchup league, and Christian McCaffrey is a matchup player. You can line him up anywhere. He will run 4.5 or better, and I've never seen him get caught from behind. He's going to be a very good NFL player."
Of course, if the Patriots as expected trade backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, they could improve their draft position considerably and get a much better shot at reeling in McCaffrey.
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