Comparing Adrian Peterson’s career to past Cardinals veteran RB acquisitions
That was the first question that popped into the heads of Arizona Cardinals fans on Tuesday when the team traded for New Orleans Saints running back Adrian Peterson, because, after all, the team has been here before.
In this millennium, the Cardinals have a history of acquiring veteran running backs that were, at one point, one of the best in the league at their position. That one point, however, was far in the past.
So, how does Peterson compare to some of those past acquisitions? Let’s start with a former Cowboy.
Smith spent his first 13 seasons in Dallas building up a Hall of Fame portfolio.
Smith had an incredible five-year run after his rookie season, rushing for at least 1,484 yards in each of those seasons, leading the league in rushing in four of those seasons.
After rushing for 25 touchdowns in 1995 — the fourth-most in NFL history — and over 1,700 yards, however, he would never reach that same level of dominance.
He remained consistent, rushing for at least 1,000 yards the next six seasons, but ran for 17 total touchdowns in his last three seasons with the Cowboys. Clearly, he would never be the elite player he once was in his early 20s.
His last line in his final season in Dallas was seemingly normal: 975 rushing yards and five touchdowns in 2002.
Smith was signed to a two-year deal by the Cardinals in March of 2003, but at the age of 34, he said he believed himself to still be a 1,300-yard back, even if he hadn’t reached the mark since 1999.
Even with low expectations for a signing many believed was made for publicity more than performance on the field, Smith underachieved, averaging only 2.8 yards per carry in the 10 games he played, totaling just 256 rushing yards.
To Smith’s credit, he responded well in his final NFL season, rushing for 937 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns in the 2004 season at the age of 35.
James signed a four-year, $30 million deal with the team after a prolific seven years with the Indianapolis Colts, where he made the Pro Bowl four times. He led the league in rushing in his first two seasons in the NFL.
James was not as old as Smith was when he arrived in the Valley, signing at the age of 28.
While he would not reach over 1,500 yards rushing like he did four times with the Colts, James ran for over 1,000 yards in his first two seasons with the Cardinals.
In the team’s Super Bowl season in 2008, James saw his role reduced as he split carries with rookie Tim Hightower.
He would not return to the team in the final year of his contract, as following the death of his long-time girlfriend, he asked for his release and it was granted.
Johnson, known as “CJ2K,” rushed for 2,006 yards and 14 touchdowns during his second season in the NFL in 2009 with the Tennessee Titans.
The East Carolina product would never come close to the mark again, with his second-highest career total being 1,364 yards the following year.
Following a 2013 season that saw a noticeable dip in quality of play, the Titans released Johnson and he signed a three-year, $27 million contract with the New York Jets at the age of 29.
After a disappointing opening season in New York, the Jets declined Johnson’s option and he was now looking to rejuvenate his career.
Enter the Cardinals, where general manager Steve Keim had a knack for one-year success stories with previously astray veteran players on one-year deals.
Johnson would be the latest, racking up 814 rushing yards through 11 games before fracturing his tibia and missing the rest of the season.
He was brought back for the 2016 season on another one-year deal, but it was clear the backfield now belonged to David Johnson. Chris Johnson only played in four games that year before ending it on injured reserve with a groin injury.
In 2017, Johnson was brought back before not making the roster. He was then re-signed after David Johnson was placed on injured reserve, only for the team to release him once more after acquiring Peterson.
Speaking of Peterson, he’s was superb in his first four years in the league with the Minnesota Vikings, reaching the Pro Bowl and rushing for over 1,250 yards in every one of those seasons.
He would reach double-digit touchdowns in each of his first seven seasons and would also join Johnson in the 2,000 yards rushing club, posting 2,097 yards on the ground in 2012.
The three-time rushing champion ran for a league-leading 1,485 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns just two seasons ago at the age of 30.
That season, though, is the only one of his last three in which Peterson has made a substantial impact.
In 2014, Peterson was engulfed by the controversy of child abuse allegations and would only play in the team’s first game of the season, going from the NFL’s Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission list to being suspended for the rest of the season.
Peterson would return for a big season in 2015, but it was followed by a 2016 campaign that saw him tear his right meniscus in Week 2. Miraculously, Peterson returned in Week 15, but would not play the rest of the year.
The Vikings would decline the option in Peterson’s contract, making him a free agent. He signed a two-year deal with the Saints but had a disappointing opening four games that saw him splitting time with Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara.
In those four games, Peterson carried the ball 27 times for 81 yards. The most touches on the season was 11 in Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers.
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