INDIANAPOLIS -- Adrian Peterson is, unless he takes a pay cut from the Minnesota Vikings, headed into free agency.
The Vikings informed the former league MVP and rushing champion they would not exercise his option, which included a $6 million roster bonus. And while he and the Vikings have left the door cracked for a return, Peterson will likely join the growing list of marquee players in the free-agency era who have switched jerseys late in their careers.
It’s the way of the NFL world. Even Peyton Manning finished his career in Denver after being released by the Indianapolis Colts. As Peterson moves on to see what his value is as a 30-something running back, it is a time to look at his football resume. Is he Canton-worthy right now?
Peterson has been framed as a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His numbers are decidedly impressive, but there is a bit of an inconvenient truth with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unless you are a longtime franchise quarterback with multiple Super Bowl wins, you are not a lock to get in.
That said, Peterson is 16th all time in rushing yards, and all but two backs in front of him -- Edgerrin James and Frank Gore -- have been enshrined in Canton. Even if Peterson had a couple of lackluster seasons for a new team or if injury troubles return -- he has missed at least 13 games in two of the past three seasons -- he’s already on the short list for consideration.
But again, most of the players who weren’t face-of-the-franchise passers usually have waited for Canton far longer than they expected. It’s a numbers game, and it’s difficult to move to the front of the line.
Two running backs -- LaDainian Tomlinson and Terrell Davis -- are in the Hall’s class of 2017. Davis was a finalist four times, including a five-year gap between his first and second times as a finalist.
Tomlinson was a first-ballot Hall of Famer, so he provides a model for Peterson’s candidacy. Tomlinson finished with 13,684 yards rushing and, like Peterson to this point, did not have a Super Bowl ring.
But the Hall of Fame process is about breaking ties. Decisions are made as the first list of eligible players is trimmed to 25 in the selection process, to the 15 finalists, and finally to as many as five who can be selected for enshrinement.
Will Peterson make it on the first try? Tomlinson had 624 career receptions, 383 more than Peterson, to go with 162 career touchdowns, 60 more than Peterson. Tomlinson's numbers were certainly first-ballot worthy.
Jerome Bettis, a Hall of Famer who finished with 13,662 career rushing yards, had the same kind of statistical profile as Peterson -- he had 200 career receptions and averaged one fewer yard per carry in his career than Peterson's current 4.9. But Bettis was a finalist for the Hall of Fame five times before he was selected for enshrinement.
In the end, many will characterize Peterson’s Hall of Fame candidacy as a no-brainer. History says so, with 15 of the 21 running backs with more than 11,000 yards rushing having been fitted for a gold jacket.
And Peterson probably will likely get one of his own at some point. It just might take more than one swing.
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