The severe knee injury on Sunday to the Vikings’ franchise player Adrian "All Day" Peterson illustrates the stark fact that the careers of even the best and most secure professional football players can be irrevocably altered in the blink of an eye. Peterson, universally recognized as one of, if not the top running back in football, has a long and arduous rehabilitation process ahead from a torn ACL and MCL.
Peterson plays the position with the shortest shelf life in football. Although we will certainly hear that his surgery went well, recovery will be smooth and he'll be ready by opening day of 2012 -- do we ever hear not hear that? -- there is a chance that Peterson may never be the same player that he was a week ago.
ICONLuckily for Peterson, he cashed in this summer.
Luckily for Peterson, he cashed in prior to the season in August. Here are the key numbers (pay no attention to seven years, $100 million; that was just for the headline): $32 million in full guarantee, another $4 million in injury-only guarantee, and $40 million over the first three years, the key marker for a deal.
Absent a new contract, Peterson was scheduled to make $10.7 million for 2011, with a future contract uncertain due to his injury. With the extension in September, he is guaranteed $36 million.
In light of Sunday's injury, it is interesting that there is a $4 million injury guarantee. This means Peterson would be paid despite the fact he suffered an injury that prevents him from playing. That clause seemed far-fetched to be thinking about when negotiated for 2013 – the year for which it is applicable – but with the severity of the injury, it may turn out to be prescient.
As we know from following the business of football, all players are not treated equally by NFL teams. For players suffering a season-ending injury, they are certainly paid the balance of salary for the season of injury (otherwise the team would be liable in a grievance). The situation becomes more intriguing in the season following the season of injury.
If the player fails the physical coming into the offseason program for the next season -- usually in late March -- the team could (1) continue to rehabilitate the player with the goal of having the player for the season, this the case with Peterson; or (2) continue to rehabilitate the player while putting off the decision as to whether the player is in the team’s plans, or (3) release the player as “Waived, Failed Physical” with remaining liability dependent on whether the player continues to try and play.
Injury Protection Benefit
If a player “Waived, Failed Physical” passes another team’s physical at some point in the season, the original team is off the hook. If the player is unable to pass a physical that season due to an injury suffered in the prior season, he can receive a one-time Injury Protection (IP) benefit. The IP benefit, as per the new CBA, has been increased to a maximum of $1 million, or 50% the player’s salary, whichever is lower.
Further, also as per the new CBA, in the event the player is still unable to play in a second season following the injury, he can collect a new "second IP benefit" of up to $500,000 or 30% of what would have been his scheduled salary for that year, whichever is lower. This assumes, of course, that the player was under contract for that year.
AP’s long road ahead
Back to Peterson, the Vikings will certainly want to keep him as part of the team and spend the resources they need to progress his rehabilitation. Thus, he will make his scheduled $8.25 million ($8 million salary, $250,000 workout bonus) for 2012.
The issue for Peterson and the Vikings is not 2012, but rather 2013, when Peterson is scheduled to make $11.25 million. What if he is still not recovered going into that season? What if he has recovered but it is clear from either his play in late 2012 and/or in minicamps in 2013 that he does not have the explosion that he had in 2011? What to do?
Unfortunately, as we have seen in the NFL for star running backs such as Jamal Anderson, Eddie George, Brian Westbrook, Shaun Alexander, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and countless others, things very rarely end well. Even the best of the best of NFL running backs are involuntarily “retired” rather than deciding to retire.
It may seem far-fetched to think we have seen the last of Peterson as we knew him a couple of days ago. But if Peterson is unavailable or limited next season, there will be other players -- Toby Gerhart among them -- playing running back for the Vikings. Although they will not be Adrian Peterson, there will be a level of performance that probably exceeds expectations. And their collective price tag will be a fraction of Peterson’s $11 million cost for 2013. And the Vikings will have to make a decision.
We have seen this script before; hopefully for Peterson it will have a different ending.
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