The running back position may be devalued in some corners of the NFL, and running backs at age 30 are commonly marginalized even more as their ability to continue handling heavy workloads is questioned.
But with Adrian Peterson agreeing to attend the Minnesota Vikings OTA’s without a restructured contract, the NFC North becomes something of a test kitchen for contrasting approaches to winning in the NFL.
The Green Bay Packers rise or fall on the arm of Aaron Rodgers (they lost four of the five games he missed with a shoulder injury in 2013), and the Detroit Lions rely on Matthew Stafford’s passing on 62 percent of their snaps.
But the return of Peterson, 30, after his season-long suspension for child abuse and ensuing acrimony between the team and himself, coupled with the Bears’ anticipated return to offensive balance around Matt Forte, 30 in December, sets up divisional rivalries involving more than just team names.
Neither the Bears nor the Vikings have committed to their franchise backs beyond the 2015 season; Forte’s contract expires after this year, and Peterson’s $32 million due over the next two years is not guaranteed.
For Peterson, the situation involves both sides, plus a divided fan base, putting aside differences and sticking to football.
“I’m returning because I want to,” Peterson told ESPN. “I’m a part of this football team and I owe it to the guys I play with and to our coaches. I was planning on coming in this week, and I’m looking forward to getting back on the field. It’s what I love to do.”
The contentiousness between Peterson and the Vikings came down to Minnesota, publicly via coach Mike Zimmer, bluntly declaring that Peterson would play for the Vikings or no one. The Bears and Forte have shared none of the venom, Forte stating out front that he would not hold out for a contract adjustment (which some believe the Bears ultimately will do for one of the NFL’s top all-around backs).
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The two quarterback-centered NFC North teams reached the playoffs last season: Green Bay (12-4) and Detroit (11-5), although the Packers do achieve some balance with Eddie Lacys running. But Peterson was out, and the Bears’ offense was the epitome of dysfunction, top to bottom.
Now Peterson has returned and the Bears, like Minnesota, are under the direction of a balance-oriented coach from a defensive background. The only NFL division other than the AFC North to send two teams to the playoffs in five of the last six seasons just got a whole lot more interesting.