It seems that every year there is one persistent rumor about the Dallas Cowboys that emerges. It becomes impossible to kill, shambling out of the shadows every time you think it has finally been vanquished. No matter how overwhelming the evidence is that it is not something that is going to happen, it just keeps coming back, devouring the brains of fans who refuse to see the light.
In 2014, it was the fervent belief that Jerry Jones was going to draft Johnny Manziel if he was available in the first round. This flew in the face of what everyone else on the team was saying, and also ran counter to the history of how the draft was conducted since Jason Garrett became head coach and brought his process to Valley Ranch.
This year, it is the belief that the Cowboys are seeking to find a way, any way, to bring Adrian Peterson to Dallas. There are so many reasons this makes almost no sense at all for the team, but it is an idea that has proved impossible to kill. It rose again when Dallas pulled the Tony Romo trigger and restructured his contract to free up $12.8 million in cap space. Within minutes excited tweets flooded timelines asserting that this had to have been done so Dallas could afford the contract for Peterson.
It is not impossible for Peterson to wind up in Dallas, just incredibly improbable. The one thing that still seems to impart the undying nature to the rumor is that Jerry Jones still owns the team and still holds the title of general manager. Going out and getting AD at all costs fits the old meme of him as impulsive and wanting to assert he still has control of things in the end. The recent re-signing of Rolando McClain is seen by some as evidence that he stepped in to make this happen, despite the fact that the contract he finally received was very reminiscent of the Greg Hardy deal. It protects the team and allows the team to move on at little cost, while providing large incentives to McClain to put in the work he may have been reluctant to do at times late in 2014. While you can never say never, here are the main reasons why you will almost certainly not see Peterson wearing the Star this year.
The cap space from Romo's restructure is already spoken for. The Greg Hardy deal is deceptive from a cap space perspective. Because he only played two games last season, most of his bonus and incentive-laden deal is considered not likely to be earned, and it only counts as a little over $3.2 million against the cap now. But if he earns most or all of the non-guaranteed money (which the team certainly hopes he will), then it will have to be accounted for as it is paid out. That, plus the McClain deal and the money needed to sign the rookie class, basically eats up all the money that the restructure provided. To sign Peterson, Dallas would have to find new money for him. There are limited and unattractive options to do that. And it would not be cheap.
Dreams of a big discount from Peterson are just that. Perhaps "fantasy" is a more appropriate term here. AD may be unhappy with the thought of playing this year for the Minnesota Vikings, but he stands to make $13 million this year if he does, and would earn $45 million if he plays out the remaining three years of his current deal and earns his workout bonuses. At his age (30), he is not going to get another big payday after that contract expires, and it would not be very smart of him to take a shorter or significantly lesser contract to play for someone else. Even if he would take less money, it is hard to imagine that he would be willing to accept much less than $10 million a year when he can stay in the cold north and make the kind of money he can earn there.
The Vikings don't show any inclination of letting him go - at least not for nothing. Minnesota could cut him outright, but all the talk so far is that they intend to keep him. The only way that it would appear he could be pried loose would be in a trade, with the other team giving up one or more draft picks. That would be a cost in addition to the salary, and any team that traded for him would have to either honor his current contract or negotiate a new deal with him. In any case, it is a double whammy, costing both a lot of cap space and a draft pick.
No matter how exceptional Peterson's career has been so far, he can't maintain his level of play indefinitely. There is no question that Peterson has been a phenomenal, even freakish, athlete. He has been the bulk of Minnesota's offense for years, with little in the way of support from the passing game. That is a lot of wear and tear, and even though he sat out most of last year, it will catch up with him one day. No one can be sure when, but age 30 is a bad age for running backs. Taking on Peterson with a multiyear contract, which would almost certainly be something he would require, would be a risk that is very unlikely to pay off. The Vikings can afford the risk, since none of his remaining contract is guaranteed. But it would be very doubtful that Peterson would not demand some kind of guaranteed money on a new deal, which would in a sense be worse than just assuming his current contract.
Acquiring Peterson would be counter to almost everything the Cowboys have done the past few years, including this offseason. The main characteristics that Dallas has demonstrated of late has been to reserve big deals for their own, proven players, fiscal discipline, no splurging in free agency, and building through the draft. A deal to bring in Peterson would violate all of those. It would probably require sacrificing one or more draft picks, would represent a big investment in an aging veteran, and would definitely qualify as a big splurge.
If the team could get Peterson on a pay-as-you-go deal like Hardy's then it would be a great signing. The chances of AD agreeing to that seem vanishingly small, outside the likelihood of him even being available under those kinds of terms. If the Vikings should make an abrupt course change and cut Peterson outright, then the Cowboys would rightly want to talk to him and see what he might be agreeable to, but as happened with DeMarco Murray, the odds are that someone would be willing to pay more, probably much more, for Peterson's past performance than Dallas.
There are just many, many things that would have to fall just right for AD to come to Dallas. Until some things start to happen, none of which seem very likely now, it just is not going to happen. The story makes for a lot of clicks and juicy headlines, but has little relation to current reality. But then, zombies aren't real, either. They still seem to be everywhere, none the less.