There have been a tremendous amount of rumblings over the past few months about Adrian Peterson somehow ending up in a Dallas Cowboys uniform.
From Peterson reportedly telling Cowboys owner Jerry Jones that he’d love to play for the team to Dallas restructuring Tony Romo’s contract to create $13 million in cap room, the rumors seem to be moving forward at a rapid pace.
What we do know right now is that Peterson doesn’t seem to be happy with the Minnesota Vikings. We also know that Dallas is one of the teams that he’s reportedly interested in joining. Those two pieces of information coupled with the loss of 2014 NFL Offensive Player of the Year DeMarco Murray could lead many to believe Peterson will be wearing the star next year.
There’s also another school of thought that seems to believe Peterson to the Cowboys is nothing more than a worn-out narrative. After all, why would the team invest in the 30-year-old running back after letting Murray walk in free agency?
Any which way you spin it, there is a chance that Peterson will find himself suiting up for his home-state team in 2015.
Here are some reasons why it would be a good idea for the Cowboys.
The entire idea that Dallas can’t afford Peterson under the cap is a bit ridiculous. And while that narrative may die down a little now that Romo has restructured his deal, there are still some who look at the NFL’s salary cap as a hard fix on what teams can spend. That is to say, some believe what the Cowboys cap number is right now will be the same figure two weeks from now.
It’s true that teams must be below a certain number when the new league year hits. It’s also true that certain contract bonuses, incentive payouts and potential long-term contracts must be taken into account. But let’s not sit back and think the Cowboys don’t understand the situation at hand. They have more than enough flexibility to create room to make Peterson’s current contract work until it expires following the 2017 season.
Now that Romo’s restructure is pretty much etched in stone, there are some other options out there for Dallas to make a Peterson acquisition viable.
Brandon Carr possesses a $12.7 million cap hit for 2015. And while his current deal would enable the Cowboys to move on following this upcoming season without a cap hit, they could easily turn half of that into 2016 earnings. This would give Carr dead money hit beyond this year, but it would also create the necessary cap room to add Peterson.
In addition to Carr, Jason Witten, Morris Claiborne and Sean Lee are all restructure candidates. Without getting into too many more specifics, the flexibility is here for Dallas to make a play for Peterson. That much is undeniable.
Nothing is ever guaranteed in the NFL. We saw this first hand last season when the San Francisco 49ers followed up three consecutive NFC Championship game appearances with a substandard 8-8 record, which led to the ousting of Jim Harbaugh as the team’s head coach. For every New England Patriots squad that contends consistently over the course of a decade-plus, there are 10 other teams that see their window for contention close just as quickly as it opened up.
Romo (34) and Witten (32) are both getting up there in age. In addition to this, Dez Bryant’s future with the Cowboys beyond 2015 is cloudy at best. Based on what we have seen over the past several months, there’s a decent chance Bryant will not return in 2016.
Back to Romo for a second. At nearly 35 and with a history of back issues, there’s no telling how long he’s going to be able to maintain his high level of play. And with a dead cap hit currently standing at $46 million, his contract will present a major issue moving forward.
Even though Dallas has some nice young talent, the window for contention isn’t nearly as wide open as many would like to believe. As much as losing Murray and potentially replacing him with Darren McFadden might hurt, adding Peterson would likely make Dallas the conference favorites in 2015.
Peterson is Better Than Murray
This isn’t meant to take anything away from what Murray did last season. He put up one of the greatest single-season performances for a running back in the recent history of the NFL. In doing so, Murray was able to bank in big time in free agency.
But let’s also call a spade a spade. Dallas’ offensive line was borderline ridiculous last year. After spending first-round picks on that unit three times in the previous four drafts, Dallas built a bully upfront. Much like we have seen with solid running backs in the past, the talent along the offensive line could play as big of a role as the talent the running back himself carries into each game.
If Murray needed a rare healthy season, a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback an one of the top offensive lines in the NFL to record stellar numbers, does that put him on Peterson’s level? After all, the Vikings running back racked up over 2,300 total yards back in 2012 with Christian Ponder tossing the rock. That performance came against eight-men boxes, which is something we didn’t see very often in Dallas last season.
Even at 30, Peterson still has a ton of tread left in his tires. And as much as this past season has been bad for his reputation, it did give the aging running back a nice rest from actually taking a punishment on the field.
We covered windows, and how they can close in relatively short order. This is only magnified in the NFC with a bunch of ultra-talented teams looking to advance past the Seattle Seahawks. Simply put, we aren’t talking about the NBA’s Eastern Conference here. If Dallas takes even one step back from where it was last year, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants will be more than ready to pounce on the defending champs in the NFC East.
Looking at the entire NFC for a second, there are other teams that stand a chance to leap over a Cowboys squad that may have to rely on Darren McFadden to produce. That doesn’t even take into account the two teams that vied for the conference title this past January in the form of the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers.
Some may think this is a ridiculous layer to the conversation. However, there is now a strong chance that Dallas will spend one of its two top picks on a running back. It could target either Melvin Gordon or Todd Gurley in the first round. If not, the likes of Duke Johnson and Ameer Abdullah could be had in the second round.
The necessity to add a running back later this month isn’t based only on a long-term strategy. Instead, the Cowboys need someone to actually perform this upcoming season. It wouldn’t be a draft-and-stash like we saw with Carlos Hyde in San Francisco last year. That is to say, Dallas can’t be thinking much beyond the 2015 season when going after a running back. This limits the team’s options to players that will be able to produce out of the gate.
Adding Peterson wouldn’t necessarily mean that the Cowboys would be out of the market for a running back. They are still going to have to find a long-term solution. However, that could potentially be put off until the mid rounds of the 2015 draft or until next April. This would leave the Cowboys big board rather wide open in the early rounds later this month. They could even potentially target a quarterback of the future to eventually replace Romo should one fall down the board in either the first or second round. Of course, this is all dependent on what the Cowboys might have to give up in a potential deal for Peterson.
As we have seen numerous times in the past, teams that have a wide open draft board in terms of positions of need tend to succeed the most when all is said and done. Having to target a specific position in the initial rounds isn’t a recipe for success. Short of adding Peterson, the Cowboys would likely have to do just that.
Is it Viable?
Anything is possible when Jerry Jones is running the ship. He likes to make the big splash, and he’s been somewhat successful doing this in the past. Stephen Jones may be holding his free-spending father back a bit, but the boss will get what he wants in the end. If it’s Peterson, then we are likely going to see the future Hall of Famer in a Cowboys uniform next year.
It’s all about finding a happy medium between short-term contention and long-term viability. Sure the addition of Peterson would put Dallas in a less-than stellar cap situation two years down the road. Sure it would be a move that defined the Cowboys teams that meddled in mediocrity for so many years after the Troy Aikman era. However, it would also be a bold move that puts the rest of the NFC on notice.
If we were talking about any other team here, it wouldn’t make much sense. Why pay Peterson what they wouldn’t pay Murray? Why add even more long-term cap issues by bringing in a player that was out of football last season?
Answering these two questions doesn’t take more than three words: The Super Bowl.
Photo: USA Today Sports