The Saints provided an unexpected blip on the transaction radar Tuesday by dealing future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson to the Cardinals in exchange for a conditional late-round pick in 2018. As in every deal, some stand to benefit a little more than others.
Here’s our crack at identifying the winners and losers of Tuesday’s swap:
Adrian Peterson: Peterson texted NFL Network’s Stacey Dales, saying, “I am so ecstatic,” in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s deal. Peterson wins because, for at least another few weeks, he can continue operating as the player he’s always seen himself as: the every-down power back who is a central focus of the team’s offensive gameplan. That was certainly not going to be the case anymore in Minnesota, and it was never the case in New Orleans — where he’d posted just 81 yards on 27 carries in four games after signing in the offseason — no matter how often both parties tried to convince themselves Peterson was capable of accepting a complementary role. Whether or not he reclaims magic down the road seems immaterial now. Peterson got what he wanted, and he’s heading to Phoenix.
Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, Saints running backs: No longer will the Saints’ two main running backs have to leave the field for an awkward transition into the Peterson offense. Kamara is perfectly suited for the type of offense coach Sean Payton runs, but the rookie was getting out-carried by Peterson, 27-15, despite averaging more than 2 additional yards per attempt. Ingram, who’s been with the Saints since 2011 and was always a perfectly suitable power-type back for New Orleans to transition to anyway, saw his attempts per game this year dwindle to about 10. Peterson’s absence should help that number increase, as well.
Sean Payton, Saints coach: While Payton and Peterson both insisted there was nothing brewing when a Peterson comment during the season opener forced Payton to turn around and stare at his running back just before halftime, it was clear that Peterson wasn’t happy. He was never going to be happy in this type of role, and Payton would probably prefer he didn’t have to downshift his offense into a specific formation just to properly utilize his best back. Creating a more fluid play-calling situation with fewer unhappy players is rarely a losing proposition for a head coach.
Drew Brees, Saints quarterback: In the season opener, the Saints took out Peterson and brought in Kamara for a third-and-short play, which almost completely signaled pass to the defense. This was the type of stacked deck the Saints were working against. Peterson can be dominant in stretches, but his presence in this offense can also lend itself to predictability. Brees has always been working against defenses that expected him to chuck the ball 35 times per game, but if there’s still an opportunity to deceive, he’ll take it.
The Cardinals: At least for now, the Cardinals get a momentary jolt. After reaching their peak in 2015 under Bruce Arians, Arizona has faltered in recent years, thanks to injury and age. The Cardinals lost do-it-all back David Johnson to a dislocated wrist in Week 1 and have stumbled to a 2-3 start, while their running game is ranked 32nd. Will adding a 32-year-old power back help? Who knows? But … the team seems happy. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald tweeted a celebration on Tuesday. Veterans with similar cachet like Peterson, Fitzgerald, cornerback Patrick Peterson and quarterback Carson Palmer should get along just fine.
Another bonus? This move comes for pennies on the dollar and, if Peterson, who is signed to a two-year deal, still has some juice left, the Cardinals retain his rights for 2018.
The Saints: It’s never easy to admit a mistake, and kudos to the organization for doing so. New Orleans is going to end up paying the bulk of Peterson’s salary this season (about $2.8 million), according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. The return on their investment? Four games and less than 100 rushing yards.
The Cardinals’ offensive line: Already under scrutiny, this unit now shoulders the increased burden of clearing lanes for an NFL legend. If it doesn’t work out for whatever reason, who will undoubtedly be the first to take the blame? In the past, Peterson has been able to elevate offensive-line play with his fierce, downhill running style. We have not seen evidence of that in 2017, nor did we in late 2016, when Peterson returned from a torn meniscus.
Adrian Peterson: If this doesn’t work out, what does the market end up looking like for a soon-to-be 33-year-old running back? Clearly, Peterson still has lofty goals and ambitions, but his phone wasn’t exactly ringing off the hook during free agency.
Chris Johnson: Johnson was released to make room for Peterson on the roster. The 32-year-old was the Cardinals’ leading rusher this season, with 114 yards on 45 carries.