I’m not optimistic about Adrian Peterson’s chances of a career revival with the Washington Redskins. As a ‘Skins fan, I immediately texted a friend to say simply “Dan Snyder has done it again”. That is, signed a big-name, but washed-up player to falsely stir up our hopes in August. After the text exchange and after watching Peterson play in Week 3 of the preseason against Denver, I feel somewhat better. No, I still don’t believe this is going to work, but there is a glimmer of hope that has precedent in the long history of the Washington Redskins.
Let’s start with the fact that is a no-risk move for the Redskins. The running back job was supposed to go to highly regarded rookie Derrius Guice, but he tore up his knee in the first quarter of the first preseason game. This season, in all likelihood, is win-or-bust for fifth-year head coach Jay Gruden. And Peterson was only signed to a one-year contract. So there’s no real salary cap risk and there’s no denying playing time to a worthy young prospect.
Saying there’s no risk is hardly the same as optimism about success though. For this to actually produce results, Gruden is going to have change how he operates his offense. The Redskins have typically used a running back-by-committee approach in the coach’s tenure. I don’t see how that works with Peterson.
He’s the kind of big back who needs to get lathered up, work into a rhythm and really be able to pound on an opposing defense. Gruden needs to make an unequivocal decision that AP is going to get the football 20-25 times per game and simply bet the season (and his job) on it. I’m not saying it’s ideal, but it’s the best choice in a menu of bad options.
It’s not unlike the situation the Redskins faced going into the 1981 season. The running game was lacking and there was a big, veteran runner on the wrong side of age 30 sitting out there. Rookie head coach Joe Gibbs decided to pay a personal visit to the home of big John Riggins and talk him into coming back. Riggins agreed. By the end of 1982, he was the Super Bowl MVP and the focal point of one of the most legendary NFL running games in the modern era.
The key to Riggins’ success was simple—he went to Gibbs and demanded the ball. Riggins wasn’t going to be successful getting 8-10 carries a game. It gave him no chance to get into the flow of the game and wear on opposing defenses. Gibbs, whose reputation had been built as the architect of the explosive passing games in San Diego led by Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, acceded to the change in direction. The rest, as they say, is history.
To reiterate again, I’m not predicting this will happen with Adrian Peterson. But when the news of the signing first broke, I saw a zero percent chance of success. Now I’m up to thinking those odds are about 20 percent. It’s not a lot, but it’s something. And there’s a simple way to find out—Gruden should just give AP the football and not stop until both men are on the unemployment line.