The idea of pairing tailback Adrian Peterson with quarterback Drew Brees in the same backfield in New Orleans seemed intriguing at first, at least to some. There was one major problem: It’s not 2012. Or even 2015.
While Brees remains productive at age 38, Peterson is not showing that he has much — or any — good football left in him as a 32-year-old running back.
Most of the NFL appeared to realize this months ago, as it took Peterson quite some time to land a job with the Saints in the offseason after the Minnesota Vikings decided to move on from him. The Saints didn’t know it then. But they know it now. And so it’s on to Arizona for Peterson, as the Cardinals become the latest team to give “one last chance” to Peterson. They traded a conditional sixth-round draft choice in 2018 to the Saints on Tuesday for Peterson.
The question is: Why?
The cost is low and the risk is minimal for the Cardinals. They are sending a late-round pick to New Orleans and it’s not even in next year’s draft. They must pay Peterson a prorated portion of his modest $1 million salary for this season. They are without injured running back David Johnson and they are ranked last in the league in rushing offense.
Even so, the move seems desperate for the Cardinals. There is little to no on-field evidence that Peterson still can be an effective centerpiece runner. He had 72 rushing yards on 37 carries in his injury-shortened 2016 season for the Vikings. He had 81 rushing yards on 27 carries this season for the Saints. He has run for 153 yards on 64 carries since the start of last season. That’s 2.4 yards per carry. It’s a small sample, yes. But if the name on the back of the jersey was something different, there would be no reason to grant further opportunities.
There’s a reason that running backs older than 30 are considered ancient. It is an unrelentingly demanding position even by the standards of an unrelentingly demanding sport. There are only so many carries that a body can take and so many hits that it can endure.
Peterson was a 2,000-yard rusher in 2012 and a 1,400-yard rusher as recently as 2015. But that is a lifetime ago in NFL running back years. In New Orleans this season, he provided no glimpses of being able to summon any of that ball-carrying magic any longer, even in small doses.
Even worse, he seemed to regard himself as the Adrian Peterson of 2012, worthy of being treated with all the deference afforded to a player of that caliber. He glared at Saints Coach Sean Payton on the sideline during the season-opening game at Minnesota. There appeared to be a less-than-pleasant exchange. Peterson and Payton said there was nothing to it. But the images suggested otherwise.
Peterson was a role player in New Orleans. But he didn’t appear to accept that. The Saints have Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara to share playing time and split carries in their backfield. They’ll be just fine without Peterson. They will probably be better off, actually, without the headaches.
In Arizona, Peterson joins another aging quarterback in Carson Palmer. The Cardinals have a roster that, in a winning season, would be called experienced. In a losing season, it’s called old. They have a record of 2-3 and are coming off a 34-7 loss at Philadelphia. Their two victories have come over the Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts and the winless San Francisco 49ers.
Maybe Peterson will be a difference-maker for the Cardinals. Maybe all the evidence suggesting otherwise is illusory and misleading. Maybe all he needs is a chance to be a No. 1 running back again.
But to actually believe that at this point requires a significant leap of faith. The odds aren’t favorable for the pairing of Peterson and the Cardinals to be mutually beneficial.
Read more NFL: