The Detroit Lions are adding one of the best running backs in NFL history, reaching an agreement with free agent Adrian Peterson Sunday morning. The pending deal was confirmed by the player’s agent.
According to ESPN, it’s a one-year deal worth $1.05 million — the veteran minimum for a player with seven or more years of experience — with built-in incentives to increase Petrerson’s earning potential.
A 13-year NFL veteran, Peterson has rushed for 14,216 yards during his career. That ranks fifth all-time, one spot and 1,053 yards behind Lions Hall of Famer Barry Sanders.
The move will reunite Peterson, 35, with Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who served in the same role for the Minnesota Vikings from 2006-10. In four years with Bevell, Peterson averaged 1,446 rushing yards and 1,738 yards from scrimmage, while scoring more than 13 touchdowns per season.
And Peterson has always been a Lions killer. In 15 games, he’s racked up 1,517 yards on the ground (5.2 yards per carry) and 12 total touchdowns.
Most recently, Peterson was with the Washington Football Team. He rushed for 898 yards (4.3 yards per carry) and scored five touchdowns last season. He was was released Friday, ahead of Saturday’s cut day, as the franchise committed to its youth movement.
“It caught me by surprise,” Peterson told former ESPN reporter Josina Anderson after his release. “I was having a strong camp. It was showing up on film, taking No. 1 reps all the way to this week. I just got notified by the running backs coach yesterday that they want to give these young guys some reps, but I didn’t know I was going to get cut, there was no indication. Today (Ron) Rivera just said this is always tough, but yes we’re gonna release you and go with this offensive style. I respect coach.”
Prior to a corresponding roster move, Peterson joins a young backfield in Detroit headed by Kerryon Johnson and D’Andre Swift and complemented by Ty Johnson and Bo Scarbrough.
Injuries had been a concern heading into the season, ahead of signing Peterson.
Kerryon Johnson, the presumptive starter, has been in and out of the practice rotation this training camp as part of a maintenance program after he suffered a second knee injury in as many seasons last year. Additionally, Swift and Scarbrough missed extensive practice time with injuries.
Peterson has had his own injury concerns, breaking his collar bone prior to entering the NFL draft in 2007. He’s also had a number of lower body injuries as a pro, including an ACL tear in 2011. In 2017, he missed the final five weeks with a serious neck injury.
Yet in the past two seasons with Washington, he only missed one contest, and not due to injury. He was a healthy scratch for the team’s Week 1 game in 2019.
“Honestly, he’s been playing a long time at a high level, and he’s taken a lot of hits, and he’s been on the injury report, and he’s taken days off, and he’s done all that,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said ahead of last year’s game against Washington. “Then on Sunday, he shows up. He’s ready to go. I think you expect that out of a guy that’s been doing it consistently for a long time like that. For us, what we’ve seen on tape and the way he’s playing right now — it’s a problem. He’s playing really hard, really aggressive. His vision is really good right now. He just sees those cuts, and he’s making some pretty explosive decisions right now at the line of scrimmage.”
The Lions ended up holding Peterson, who was questionable with a toe injury coming into the game, to 27 yards on 10 carries in a 19-16 loss.
With the offseason additions of Swift, a second-round draft pick, and Peterson, the Lions will look to finally get their long-sputtering ground game on track. The team ranked 21st in both rushing yards per game and per carry in 2019. Kerryon Johnson led the team with 403 yards in eight games.
In the past decade, Detroit has not finished in the top half of the league in rushing, while finishing in the bottom-five five times during that stretch. Reggie Bush was the last Lions back to top 1,000 yards in a season, barely breaking the threshold with 1,006 yards in 2013.
Skeptics of Peterson’s potential impact can counter with the last two notable veteran backs Detroit has signed, LeGarrette Blount and C.J. Anderson. Both were added to bring a power-rushing component to Detroit’s backfield, and each signing fell far short of expectations.
Blount, after averaging 4.4 yards per carry the year before signing with Detroit, delivered the worst production of his career in 2018, gaining a meager 2.7 yards per touch.
Anderson’s signing proved equally poor. He also averaged 2.7 yards before he was cut two games into the 2019 season.
Neither Blount or Anderson have played another down in the NFL.