But to me, one thing is clear: You don't need to have a good running back to win in this league. Having a good running back doesn't even guarantee a winning season; several great running backs are playing for terrible teams. Other than Adrian Peterson, runners like Steven Jackson, Maurice Jones-Drew and LeSean McCoy all play for teams that are no threats to make the playoffs this season.
So I think the Vikings should think seriously about trading Adrian Peterson. The cap ramifications are probably pretty bad, but the team is rebuilding and they could afford to have some dead money on the cap during next season. There's no doubt he's the best running back in the league; he's truly an elite player at a position that lacks them. He makes plays that other running backs simply aren't capable of; however, AP clearly can't carry the team on his own. He's a tremendous asset if the rest of the offense is good as well, but a great running back can only do so much to effect the outcome of a game.
If the team was able to get multiple young players and multiple draft picks from a team, they'd need to pounce on it in my opinion. I'm not sure if a team would be willing to give up the farm for a running back after the Herschel Walker trade fiasco, or even the Ricky Williams draft day trade in which Mike Ditka traded the New Orleans Saints entire draft and a first round pick the next season to move up and draft the University of Texas star.
Now, Peterson is loved here, and rightfully so. He stays out of trouble, he doesn't throw his teammates under the bus, other players respect him, and he's a good guy in the community. He's the best player on the team and one of the league's top 10 players overall, so the team would undoubtedly need to be blown away to justify trading such a popular star.
Are there any teams that would be willing to give up a lot of talent to acquire someone like Adrian Peterson? I'm not sure. Let's take a look, by division: (I ruled out the NFC North, because there's no way they'd trade him in the division, even if the Packers make a lot of sense.)
Dallas Cowboys - Jerry Jones loves to make blockbuster moves, and he may be tempted to try to acquire the star. However, DeMarco Murray has looked great over the last two months, and I'm sure Jerry Jones still thinks highly of Felix Jones, so I think we could rule Dallas out. No reverse Herschel trade, sorry Vikes fans. Dallas is a No.
New York Giants - Eli Manning, Adrian Peterson and that ridiculously good core of receivers they have? They'd be fun to play with in Madden, but in all honesty I can't imagine the Giants giving up what they'd need to, because their offense is and always will be focused around Eli Manning's arm. Peterson would be a luxury, and they just wouldn't have any reason to give up a ransom for him. The Giants are a No.
Philadelphia Eagles - LeSean McCoy is one of the best running backs in the league. Not happening. Philadelphia is a No.
Washington Redskins - The Redskins love to make big moves, or owner Daniel Snyder used to at least, so they'd at least be a darkhorse in any Adrian Peterson sweepstakes. And while Mike Shanahan has a reputation for using several running backs during the season (because he does), he's shown what he can do with extremely talented running backs. Terrell Davis ran for over 2,000 yards in Shanahan's offense, and I think everyone would agree Adrian Peterson is more talented than Davis ever was. Washington is a possibility.
Atlanta Falcons - They showed during last April when they moved up for Julio Jones that they are willing to give up assets to acquire someone they want. However, Michael Turner is a very good running back, so the Falcons are a No.
Carolina Panthers - Carolina has plenty of needs to fill themselves, and their offense will always be based around Cam Newton. AP wouldn't make sense for them, especially with the money they just gave to DeAngelo Williams. Carolina is a No.
New Orleans Saints - The Saints are apparently low-balling Drew Brees in contract negotiations, so while the Saints might be willing to trade in their three-headed running back committee for a true star in AP, I can't imagine their ownership signing off on a deal that pays Peterson the kind of money he's owed on his extension. New Orleans is a No.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Bucs have Blount who's a good, cheap, young running back, and fits their core better than Peterson would. However, after a poor season, and with plenty of money to spend, the Bucs might just be willing to acquire a major star like Peterson to help improve their offense and hopefully improve Josh Freeman's numbers next season. Tampa Bay is a possibility.
Arizona Cardinals - Beanie Wells has had a solid season, but he's generally inconsistent and adding a player like AP would obviously be a major upgrade. Kevin Kolb hasn't looked great this season, but in theory any decent quarterback would look great playing with both Adrian Peterson and Larry Fitzgerald. However, the Cardinals would probably be weary about spending almost $45MM on 3 offensive players. I'm going to say Arizona is a No.
San Francisco 49ers - Frank Gore just signed an extension, he's having a good season, and the team is going to be the number 2 seed in the NFC this season. They'll pass. The 49ers are a No.
Seattle Seahawks - The Seahawks offense has been terrible at times this season so you would think if they could acquire AP, they'd be excited to get some offensive talent. However, Marshawn Lynch has had some great games this season, and while his inconsistency gets frustrating I just can't imagine Seattle wanting Peterson enough while they have Lynch. The Seahawks are a No.
St. Louis Rams - They've been awful all season, which means they have a lot of holes to fill. They also have Steven Jackson. The Rams are definitely a No.
Buffalo Bills - Fred Jackson was having a monster season for the Bills, but he's 31-years-old and just broke his leg. They have CJ Spiller who they drafted in the top half of the first round just two years ago, and he played well last week as the feature back. I don't think they'd be too interested in acquiring AP. The Bills are a No.
Miami Dolphins - Reggie Bush is having his best season to date, and even though that "best season" still only has him on pace to rush for 889 yards, the Dolphins also just used a second round pick on Daniel Thomas. Miami is a No.
New England Patriots - The Patriots have a plethora of future draft picks thanks to trades with other teams, a decent assortment of young talent, and a fairly big hole at running back. The Patriots clearly can win without a running game, but they are the kind of team that could really benefit from the addition of AP from a Super Bowl contender perspective. The Patriots are definitely a possibility.
New York Jets - Any time a big-name player is available and he fills a potential need for the Jets, they have to be considered. I think Rex Ryan would do everything possible to acquire Peterson, because despite Shonn Greene's solid game last week he's clearly nothing more than an average running back. The Jets would be able to hide Mark Sanchez much easier if they could get back to a dominating running attack. The Jets are a possibility.
Baltimore Ravens - Ray Rice fits their offense better, and he's damn good. The Ravens are a No.
Cincinnati Bengals - With a young core being put into place, built around Andy Dalton and AJ Green, adding a veteran like Peterson would make sense. Cedric Benson is nowhere close to the type of player Peterson is, so the Bengals could be a possibility.
Cleveland Browns - They're afraid to pay Peyton Hillis after the season he had last year. Hillis clearly isn't as good as AP, but the point is if they're afraid to pay a running back after having a great season, I'm not sure they'd be able to justify trading major assets and paying him that kind of money. The Browns are a No.
Pittsburgh Steelers - No.
Houston Texans - Arian Foster is a stud. No need for Peterson. The Texans are a No.
Indianapolis Colts - The Colts have needs in a lot of places, and considering they'll likely use their number 1 pick on a position that isn't a "need" if Manning stays healthy, they can't afford to trade a ton of players and picks for one player. The Colts are a No.
Jacksonville Jaguars - New owner, they'll have a new coach, so it's hard to know for sure if they'd be interested. But MJD leads the league in yards, or is close to the lead, so there's simply no need for Peterson. The team needs a lot, but running back is not a need. The Jaguars are a No.
Tennessee Titans - They just gave Chris Johnson a massive contract extension, and he's finally playing well again. The Titans are a No.
Denver Broncos - If the Broncos are serious about making this read-option offense working, acquiring Adrian Peterson would be a big step in the right direction. Tebow is a fantastic running quarterback, and as good as the Broncos rushing attack has been over the last several weeks, upgrading from Willis McGahee to AP would be huge. Denver is a possibility.
Kansas City Chiefs - Jamaal Charles is coming off major surgery and is definitely a question mark, but he was among the league's best running backs before his injury and there's little reason to believe the Chiefs don't think he'll come back and play well. The Chiefs are a No.
Oakland Raiders - They love to make big splashes, or at least they did while Al Davis was alive, but they have Darren McFadden. No.
San Diego Chargers - AJ Smith, the Chargers GM, is a total douchebag. So No.So who does that leave as possible trade partners? Here:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
New England Patriots
New York Jets
Now, I realize it's ridiculously silly to try to predict trades, but this whole idea of the Vikings actually trading AP is silly on it's own, so just go with it. Here's what I think the Vikings would need from each team for it to make sense for them to trade their best player.
Washington Redskins Get: RB Adrian Peterson
Minnesota Vikings Get: RB Roy Helu, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, Washington's 2012 1st and 2nd round picks, Washington's 2013 2nd and 3rd round picks
Washington would be giving up a lot of talent, and the Vikings would be foolish to pass on this kind of offer. But I think it would take something like this to pry AP from the Vikings anyways.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Get: RB Adrian Peterson
Minnesota Vikings Get: RB LeGarrette Blount, CB Aqib Talib, Bucs 2012 1st round pick, Bucs 2013 3rd round pickTalib and Blount are extremely talented players but both come with baggage, which is why the Vikings would still need two solid draft picks to make this deal feasible. The Bucs have enough young talent that this is a trade they could make fairly easily if they wanted too, though.
New England Patriots Get: RB Adrian Peterson
Minnesota Vikings Get: RT Nate Solder, CB Ras-I Dowling, New England's 2012 1st round pick, New Orleans' 2012 1st round pick and Oakland's 2012 2nd round pick
The Patriots haven't drafted all that well in recent years, and while giving up three high draft picks isn't usually the way they operate, it would make sense to fill such a glaring hole. The Patriots would still have a boatload of draft picks, and while Solder and Dowling are young with a lot of potential, neither is a sure thing to be a star in the league. But the potential would be too much for the Vikings to pass on.
The Jets just don't match up well with the Vikings. They lack an upcoming young star, and their draft picks will be mid-to-late in each round so the value just isn't there.
Cincinnati Bengals Get: RB Adrian Peterson
Minnesota Vikings Get: RT Andre Smith, SS Taylor Mays, MLB Rey Maualuga, Cincinnati's 2012 1st round pick and Oakland's 2012 1st round pick
The Bengals would give up three young players who were all once highly regarded, although none look to be future stars. Maualuga is a good linebacker, and Smith has improved to be at least solid, so they are good players, just not as good as once expected. Mays has barely seen the field. The Bengals may be willing to make their move now, with Dalton and AJ Green giving them a lot of hope.
Denver Broncos Get: RB Adrian Peterson
Minnesota Vikings Get: MLB Joe Mays, WR Eric Decker, FS Rahim Moore, Denver's 2012 1st round pick, Denver's 2013 3rd round pick
Pretty big ransom to pay for AP, with Decker showing a lot of potential this season. But Mays, while a good player, is certainly replaceable. Moore isn't starting yet and there's a chance the Broncos think they made a mistake, but he had a lot of potential coming out of college. Mays, Decker and Moore could give the Vikings three solid starters, and they could hope to hit a home run with one of the two draft picks to make the trade a good one.
Would you be willing to trade AP for any of those packages this off-season? I love Peterson, probably more than most fans, but I'd rather watch a winning team consistently than a fantastic running back. In a perfect world this team would just win with Peterson, but with so many holes to fill, that no longer seems possible.