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Adrian Peterson Will Have a “Defined Role” With Saints

Free agent RB Adrian Peterson has agreed to a 2-year deal with the New Orleans Saints, according to a report by ESPN reporter Josina Anderson. The deal will reportedly pay Peterson $3.5 million in 2017, all of it guaranteed; with an option for another year in 2018.

Peterson, a former All-American running back for the Oklahoma Sooners, was the 7th pick in the 2007 NFL Draft 10 years ago by the Minnesota Vikings and has been selected to 7 Pro Bowls, has 4 first-team All-Pro honors and 3 NFL rushing titles.

He was the NFL MVP in 2012, when he ran for 2,097 yards — the second-most yards by a running back ever in NFL history.

But Peterson also turned 32 last month --- and following his injury-plagued 2016 season and a contract that called for him to make a whopping $18 million, the Vikings released him.

The Vikings wanted to get "younger" at the RB position, and they did just exactly that when they signed Raiders free agent Latavius Murray, while leaving Peterson looking for a new place to call 'home' in the process.

This morning, it appears that Peterson has found a new place to call home in NOLA.

Peterson has rushed for 11,747 yards to rank 16th in NFL history. He’s only 565 yards shy from passing Jim Brown for 10th place. But he also played only three games last season because of knee and groin injuries.
With the Saints, Peterson would be coming to a team that is well-known for it ability to pass the football with future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees and a talented array of wide receivers.

As a result of being a pass-first offense, the Saints running back group essentially shares the team’s limited number of carries. Peterson would join starting running back Mark Ingram, who posted his first 1,000-yard season and a career-high 10 touchdowns a year ago.

So what is Peterson's role going forward and how will it be defined?

First we need to remember that despite Peterson's past accomplishments, he is NOT -- repeat: NOT going to be the starter.

That role belongs to the 27-year old Ingram, and the fact that the Saints are being extra careful to make sure that Peterson won't earn more money than Ingram will this coming season, is a testament to that fact.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

There are some Saints fans who will feel that Peterson should be the starter, but that's just not going to happen unless Ingram is hurt. Peterson is being signed to essentially replace Tim Hightower -- who signed with the San Francisco 49ers last month in Free Agency -- as the Saints back-up RB.

But as we far as we know (at least up to this point), Peterson does still have some "gas left in the tank", but the question is: HOW MUCH does he have left?

One likely option for the Saints is to put Peterson into the "closer" role, a spot made famous during the Saints' Super Bowl-winning 2009 season by former RB Mike Bell.

Most Saints fans will recall that Bell emerged during that 2009 season as a valuable part of the Saints' three-man rotation at tailback, joining Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush.

He ran for a total of 654 yards and 5 TD's while serving primarily as the short-yardage specialist and became what was known as "the closer" late in games.

Photo courtesy of United Press International

But he was used less and less down the stretch, partly due to a lingering knee injury, and after the famous incident where NFL Films crews caught Saints head coach Sean Payton yelling at him for wearing the wrong cleats after he slipped short of the goal line during the first half of New Orleans' Super Bowl XLIV victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Bell became expendable the following season and was not re-signed.

Obviously, Peterson won't face the same type of fate as Mike Bell eventually did; but the manner in which Sean Payton utilized Bell that year, could be the same vision that he has for Peterson.

Some things to remember are that Peterson has only played in a total of 20 games (out of a possible 48) in the past 3 seasons, thanks in part to a series of unfortunate circumstances that included a suspension that caused him to miss a chunk of the 2014 season; and a torn MCL in his right knee last year in the Vikings' season opener that caused him to miss the remaining 15 games of the 2016 season.

Given all of the "wear and tear" from the pounding that he has taken over the years, Peterson is nowhere near the player that he used to be.

Photo courtesy of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

He's now been reduced to a 2-down runner, and so if you are expecting Adrian Peterson to come in and see both him and Ingram rush for 1,000 yards each this upcoming season, you're only kidding yourself. There's no way in hell that it would ever happen in a Sean Payton offense to begin with, considering how often that the Saints throw the ball.

And then of course there's also the additional fact that Peterson has notably had trouble with catching the football throughout both his All-American college career at Oklahoma and his career as a pro.

Even worse: Peterson isn't known for being a good blocker and a pass-protector, an attribute that Sean Payton usually demands from his skill players on offense.

Honestly, what the Saints REALLY  need at the moment is a player with similar attributes to former RB's Reggie Bush with Darren Sproles, a top-notch 3rd-down back who would be a "scatback" in Sean Payton's offensive scheme capable of catching passes and screens out of the backfield.

Bringing in Peterson certainly wouldn't accomplish that, which is why you shouldn't be shocked at all when Saints brass drafts a "scatback" type of RB in this weekend's upcoming Draft, perhaps with pass-catching RB's such as Toledo's Kareem Hunt or University of Louisiana-Lafayette's Elijah McGuire being possible mid-to-late round targets.

Photo courtesy of USA TODAY Sports

But Peterson does appear to have enough "gas in the tank" to still be productive, and would seem to be at the worst a capable back-up for Ingram -- who we all know has shown a knack for getting hurt and missing games himself.

If you want to be realistic in you expectations for Peterson, then think back a few years to when former Hall of Fame RB Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys was nearing the end of his career.

Smith eventually left the Cowboys following the 2002 season after winning 3 Super Bowl titles in the 1990's and broke the all-tine NFL rushing yards title held at that time by the legendary Walter Payton.

He signed with the Arizona Cardinals in 2003 Free Agency, and played for the Cardinals for 2 more seasons including a near-1000 yard rushing season (937 yards) in 2004, before retiring from the NFL for good in February of 2005 at the age of 35 after 15 seasons.

So if Peterson is able to play as long and effectively as Smith did near the end of his career, then the Saints will be getting a player who can make a major contribution during his time in New Orleans, however long that might end up being.

And for Saints fans, the opportunity to see two future Hall-of-Famers in Peterson and Drew Brees together in the same offense and in the same backfield, will be pretty neat as well.

Photo courtesy of zimbio.com

But just remember to not get your hopes up too, too much.

Peterson is at the end of his career --- not in his "prime".

As long as you don't get too carried away as some Saints fans did yesterday on Twitter and declare the Saints Super Bowl champions in April with the season still 5 months away, then it'll be fine.

So for now, just enjoy the ride of what promises to be an interesting year ahead for the New Orleans Saints, for the remainder of 2017.......

Saints News Network Editor / Featured Columnist and Lead Analyst Barry Hirstius is a 50-year old semi-retired journalist and former New Orleans area sports editor and columnist previously with several sites that exclusively cover the New Orleans Saints NFL football team. Additionally, he is a frequent guest on a variety of Sports Talk Radio programs that cover the Saints. Barry is also a New Orleans native that dating all the way back to his childhood in the early 1970's, attended games at the old Tulane Stadium and grew up as a long-time Saints fan; following and now covering the team for a span of over 40 plus years. And perhaps most importantly of all: he is the Grandfather of two beautiful young girls, Jasmine and Serenity.......

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