It’s no secret that running backs have a short shelf life. Most of even the great ones are shot at age 30 with their prime years being between 23 and 28. Being hit 20 times a game by on-average 275 pound defenders in addition to all of the hitting and blocking will do harm to the body. So with the Vikings sitting at 2-6 essentially eliminated from playoff contention it’s fair to wonder if Adrian Peterson’s carries will be lessened preserving the 26-year-old for the long haul.
Just today offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said the following on Toby Gerhart receiving more carries, “We have to do a better job of getting Toby on the field and spelling Adrian. We did a little bit better job of that in Charlotte (a 24-21 win over Carolina on Oct. 30). But we look to do a much better job of that over the next eight games. Toby was essential in that drive we had in the third quarter in Charlotte. When he got in the game, the ball started to move.”
While Toby has only touched the ball 21 times this year, this statement does carry weight. It’s also fair to wonder if Lorenzo Booker will finish the season with the Vikings. Booker has only had 2 carries and 2 receptions this year, just dealt with a concussion and is also a free agent at the end of the season. Caleb King is an interesting name on the practice squad. Over the preseason King demonstrated good short area quickness, has an NFL build at 5’11” — 220 lbs and was decent catching the ball out of the backfield. Another team could easily sign King away and the Vikings have to wonder who between King (23) and Booker (27) has a brighter future with the team.
Going back to Peterson he currently is tied for the league’s lead in carries with 166. Another 8 games at this pace of this would obviously be 332 carries that would be the second highest of his career (note that in 2008 he had 363 carries… a playoff bound team with a combination of Gus Frerotte and Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback calls for a heavy dose of an All-World running back). There is simply no need for a team out of playoff contention to run such an asset into the ground hurting his long-term value.
What the Vikings should do for the future is look at the careers of Emmitt Smith (who ran for 18,000 yards in his career, over 6500 yards in ages 26-30) and Curtis Martin (over 14,000 yards in his career, 1697 yards when he was 31) to see what was done on those offenses building around their marquee player. The last thing the Vikings need is for Adrian to mirror the careers of Shaun Alexander (toast at 29) or Clinton Portis (30 now and unemployed).
Adrian may not like a reduction in carries, but it’s certainly time to think long-term. Especially after signing a new 7-year deal worth close to $100 million with $32 million of it guaranteed. He’s our until he’s 33. Rings and records over that span are far more valuable than anything Adrian can do on the field for what’s left of the 2011 season.
Jon Merckle may be followed on Twitter @thevikingpig