Why Adrian Peterson remains unsigned

PFF Senior Analyst Sam Monson looks at why the market for the former Minnesota star running back has been so barren thus far.

| 3 months ago
(AP Photo/David Goldman)

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

Why Adrian Peterson remains unsigned


Adrian Peterson was the league’s MVP in 2012, and is only a season removed from being the league’s rushing champion, but can’t find a new team after the Vikings cut loose his bloated contract.

It sounds illogical, but the reason is simple: Peterson has become a two-down player at a time when the league is trending in the other direction. He is an anachronism in a league that more closely resembles college spread offenses than at any time in the past, and teams are having a hard time projecting a fit that justifies any kind of big money.

League wide, teams passed 57.9 percent of the time in 2016. Only one team – the Buffalo Bills – rushed the ball more times than they passed it, and that flips on its head if you look at called pass plays, because QB Tyrod Taylor took off scrambling from the pocket on a pass play 51 times during the season. When you add scrambles and nullified plays back into the mix, the league actually calls pass plays 61 percent of the time, so a “two-down” player – already seen as a knock on a player — is becoming perilously close to a one-down player in today’s NFL.

Further complicating things is Peterson’s notorious dislike for running from the shotgun formation, preferring instead to carry from a traditional tailback spot and receive the ball from a QB who was under center at the snap. Again, this just doesn’t fit with today’s NFL. In 2016, teams lined up in shotgun formation on 64 percent of snaps. Pistol (a modified, shortened, shotgun formation with the running back directly behind the QB instead of offset to one side), accounted for another 3.5 percent, meaning teams only lined up under center on 32.5 percent of snaps, or less than one third.

On passing plays last year, NFL teams were in the shotgun 80.5 percent of the time.

Just 5.2 percent of Peterson’s career carries have come from the gun, and that is just the first way that he is ill-suited for passing downs.

For his career, he has surrendered 64 total pressures and nine sacks as a pass-blocker, despite often being kept off the field in obvious passing situations. His last full season saw him allow 10 total pressures and rank 52nd in the league in pass-blocking efficiency despite 20 backs playing more passing snaps than he did.

APeterson

As a receiver, he is little better, seeing an average of just 38 targets over his career when looking at full seasons only. He has just three seasons with a reception longer than 34 yards, and four with one longer than 22 over his career, and has dropped 32 of the 313 passes sent his way since he entered the league (only 279 were deemed catchable).

Peterson may still be dangerous with the ball in his hands, but teams need to do a lot of work to put him in those situations in 2017. Right now he makes sense only as part of a backfield committee, for a team that already has an established receiving back. New England made some sense, but for Bill Belichick’s notorious hatred of fumbles — Peterson has put the ball on the ground 42 times over his career, and that is unlikely something Belichick would sign up for in a hurry. Buffalo would make some sense, given the degree to which they look set to run the ball in 2017, but they have already invested heavily in their backfield. It is a lot of work to find a ready fit for Peterson going forward, and that’s why he remains unsigned.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • crosseyedlemon

    More bash and trash of Peterson….what a surprise! Sam’s obsession is starting to rival the one Trump has for Obama.

  • dbonedig

    The human was once a great back. But, like life, the younger get better and pass the older’s. Once, one snaps an knee, it’s over in any career that requires heavy lifting. The Body cannot be repaired, it can only be patched! Have a Safe and Productive Season to all involved,

  • Dave Hunter

    Pats still can have LaGarrette Blount, who had over 1100 yds last season. No need for Peterson.

    • crosseyedlemon

      Of course everything changes if Blount or other productive rushers around the league get sidelined by injuries. Last year at this time the Dolphins were so desperate they claimed Arian Foster. Someone will sign Peterson though not at the salary he has become accustomed to.

      • Dave Hunter

        The Pats also have James White and other talented RBs. I’m not sure Peterson’s ego will allow him to sign for a significantly smaller salary than what his contract was with the Vikes.

        • crosseyedlemon

          I guess the ego question would depend on who offered him a contract. He would probably take a healthy pay cut if he thought he could add a title ring to the MVP trophy he has.

          • Dave Hunter

            My take is he’s all about the money and isn’t motivated by a title. Anyone who’d beat a child with a switch in these times isn’t too bright anyway, imho.

          • crosseyedlemon

            At least your being honest about what is shaping your perceptions of Peterson.

          • Dave Hunter

            I raised 3 children without any corporal punishment or spanking. It’s not necessary and I view what Peterson did with disgust.

          • crosseyedlemon

            it’s likely that either your grandparents or great grandparents lived at a time when corporal punishment was widely used and not condemned as it is today. I wonder if you have disgust for them as well?

          • Anthony Walton

            I disagree, that’s what’s wrong with this generation now.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      in what world is blount being a unrestricted free-agent the same as him being a patriot? just curious

  • Patrick

    This article is illogical and contradictory. There aren’t many true 3-down backs in the NFL. Most teams employ committee backfields. Most teams are looking for an effective early down runner and AP fits that role as he has done that his entire career. AP can catch the ball decent enough and did well when Favre was at the helm. The main issue has been the QBs the Vikings have deployed and the play-calling.

    AP’s only real fault is his fumbling. That has been an issue his entire career. As for the shotgun argument there really isn’t a large enough sample of carries from AP in the shotgun to make a definitive statement that he can’t run from the shotgun. Teams wouldn’t be picking up AP to play on 3rd downs anyway, so that whole argument is moot.

    AP is likely waiting on a contender and will sign later in FA or after the draft. He probably wants a more clear vision of the contender rosters. Houston and Denver are still in flux due to their QB situations.

    • Andrea CL

      poor logic is the base for your comment. AP is out of the market right now not by his choice, but for a demanding price out of reality. Rbs over 30s are a dangerous bet, even for all time greats.

      • Patrick

        I don’t disagree with that notion. But that isn’t the only possible reason he remains un-signed.

    • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

      i believe the implication is that it’s better to be just a “3rd down back” than a 1st and 2nd down back in today’s game

      • Patrick

        Good point. But making an offense one dimensional isn’t effective. Having a between the tackles runner that can move the chains is something every team is looking for in their committee. AP fits that role. He still has a lot of qualities team would love to have in one of their RBs. Home run hitter, short yardage and goal line situations, early down runner, and a sufficient pass catcher.

        I can’t get on board with RBs that are only effective on 1 out of the 3 important downs being the most important RB to target these days.

        AP will find work after the draft imo.

        • https://twitter.com/MALACHiOFCOURSE Malachi

          i feel ya. i think AP just thinks he’s worth 10+mil a year still, and he needs to come to grips with the reality that his position has lost considerable FA value since he signed that crazy contract long ago.