EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Adrian Peterson will have surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus, putting his season and perhaps his 10-year run with Minnesota in question.
The Vikings have held off for now on placing the franchise’s all-time leading rusher on injured reserve, though, waiting for the medical report that will influence that decision. Peterson was hurt on Sunday night during the victory over Green Bay, needing assistance off the field after his knee was slightly twisted while being tackled at the end of a 5-yard run.
Peterson, 16th on the NFL’s all-time rushing list, has only 50 yards on 31 attempts this season. He told ESPN on Wednesday morning that the type of tear he was diagnosed with typically requires a minimum recovery time of three to four months. But Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the timetable for Peterson’s return won’t be clear until after the procedure.
"Everything is possible," Zimmer said. "It could be season ending. It could be three weeks, four weeks. I don’t know."
Peterson made a swift recovery from a torn ACL in his left knee suffered in the second-to-last game of the 2011 season. He came back with a flourish, in time for the 2012 opener, and won the league MVP award with 2,097 yards rushing while leading the Vikings to the playoffs.
Peterson won another NFL rushing title last year, but he’s 31 now with a contract that might not make financial sense in its current state for the Vikings to carry next year. The scheduled salary cap hit for 2017 is $18 million, so even if he were fully healthy this season his status was bound to reach a crossroad. The Vikings could try to bring him back at a reduced rate with a restructuring, but he might prefer to be released and test the market for the first time in his career.
That’s a matter for another day, though. The Vikings (2-0) have a visit to defending NFC champion Carolina on Sunday, with Jerick McKinnon set to take Peterson’s place as the featured running back. Matt Asiata has proven to be a capable backup,
"I have a lot of confidence in those two guys. I think they’re both different types of runners, but I think the combination of the two can help us," Zimmer said.
The Vikings also signed Ronnie Hillman, who had a career-high 863 yards and seven touchdowns rushing last season for Denver’s Super Bowl-winning team.
"I haven’t been here long, but I think we’ve got a great group of running backs," quarterback Sam Bradford said. "I think the guys behind him are eager for the opportunity."
Already without quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who went down with a massive knee injury on Aug. 30 during a routine practice drill, the Vikings must also move on without their starting left tackle Matt Kalil.
Kalil was placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a lingering hip problem that he played through in the first two games. He will require surgery that Zimmer said the team believes will be season ending. T.J. Clemmings, the starter at right tackle last year, will take over for Kalil.
"At this point and time I think it’s hard to find left tackles that are on the street," Zimmer said. "We’re planning on going with what we’ve got."
The Vikings haven’t given up on their chase for a championship, though. Bradford had a brilliant debut against the Packers in Bridgewater’s place, and McKinnon and Asiata were a relatively productive tandem in 2014 when Peterson was sidelined during the fallout from a child abuse case.
"They’re resilient. They’re tough. They’re competitive," Zimmer said. "Obviously we’ve had a few setbacks, but I think we can go back to last year and think about some of the things that happened. We’re not the type of team that’s going to sit back and cry about what’s happened. We’re going to go forward. Try, like I’ve said before, to find a way."
The Vikings are 10-14 without Peterson, over the 24 games he’s missed over the past nine seasons.
"That’s our identity and that’s how we’re built. We’re going to continue to stay that way," Zimmer said. "Hopefully we can play good defense and hopefully we can run the ball. Take our shots when we get a chance. We’re not going to change and go to like five wides every play."