In an unexpected move, the Washington Football Team released veteran running back Adrian Peterson on Friday. Peterson was poised to enter his third year with Washington and the 15th season of his career.
At 35 years old, Washington’s release of Peterson could signal the end of a storied career that has seen him be named to seven Pro Bowl teams, win the MVP award once and the AP Offensive Player of the Year honor in 2012.
The release comes as a surprise as Peterson was on track to be a starter for Washington in the 2020 season. In his first season with the team, Peterson rushed for 251 attempts for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, the veteran had 211 rushing attempts for 898 yards and five touchdowns.
Before joining Washington, Peterson spent a decade playing for the Minnesota Vikings. While in Minnesota, Peterson recorded seven 1,000-plus yard rushing seasons, including one season in which he rushed for 2,097 yards in 2012.
Though Peterson produced prolific running numbers throughout his 14 years in the NFL, his receiving statistics have always remained on the lower side. During seasons in which he played at least 14 games or more, Peterson caught as high as 43 receptions in a single season and as low as 17. He recorded 40 or more receptions in a single season just twice. His total career numbers come to 289 receptions for 2,365 yards and six touchdowns.
The mediocre receiving numbers should not come as a surprise. Though Peterson was the only freshman to be a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, he only caught 24 passes in his three seasons at Oklahoma.
Peterson’s release not only highlights the emphasis Washington is placing on its running backs who are all 27 years old or younger, but signals an end for old-style running backs who carry the football. Peterson represents a throwback running back and his release suggests that the new style of the NFL does not fit the veteran playing style of older running warriors.
Moving forward, Washington will have to rely on younger faces. It drafted Antonio Gibson out of Memphis with the 66th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. During his last season at Memphis, Gibson had 33 rushing attempts for 369 yards and eight touchdowns but he also recorded 38 receptions for 735 yards. In this way, Gibson presents a dual-threat and versatility at the running back position that Washington has been lacking with Peterson.
In addition to Gibson, Washington also has Bryce Love in its running back room. Love is the only running back who was on the team last year, although he has not yet taken an offensive snap for the Burgundy and Gold. The team added Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic in free agency this offseason and Washington also drafted RB/WR hybrid Antonio Gibson in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
At the start of this offseason, Washington had a crowded running back room. This has changed following the releases of Peterson and Derrius Guice, who was cut after being arrested on domestic violence charges in Loudoun County, Virginia in August. Guice was also accused of raping two women while at LSU in 2016, according to USA Today.
According to ESPN, Peterson did not see the release coming.
“It comes as a surprise. I didn’t feel I showed anything that would warrant being released,” Peterson told ESPN.
Peterson also expressed a desire to continue playing.
“Oh, yeah, without a doubt,” Peterson said. “I definitely want to play.”
Head coach Ron Rivera told reporters on a videoconference that he came to a decision on Thursday night and said that he woke up at 4:03 a.m. Friday thinking about how he would break the news to Peterson.
“It was very difficult,” Rivera said of their early morning meeting. “Just because of who he is. … He was as cool and professional as he could be.”
“Anytime you move on from a person of Adrian Peterson’s status, it’s tough,” Rivera added.
Rivera added that the decision to release Peterson on Friday ahead of the final cuts was purposeful.
“Adrian deserves his day,” Rivera said. “This is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. To be treated any other way than that, I was going to struggle with that. This isn’t about what he’s done, but about what this group of backs has shown us, especially in the way the offense is headed. That’s what this is all about. Adrian is a true pro. I was fortunate to watch the way he handles himself and the players around him. It epitomizes who he is as a player.”