In the late Fall of 1989, the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys consummated an 18-player trade that changed the fortunes for both franchises. The cornerstone of that exchange, from the perspective of then Vikings' general manager Mike Lynn, was the Vikings' acquisition of bruising and blazing running back Herschel Walker.
The struggling Cowboys had a different view of the chief attraction of the swap. For the Cowboys, the bargain in the deal was the large number of draft picks and players that the team received from Minnesota. In sum, the Cowboys received eight Minnesota picks, three of them first-, three of them second-rounders, as well as four starters, including Darin Nelson, who refused to report to Dallas and was shipped to San Diego.
As has been well-chronicled and further etched in the memories of all NFL general managers, past and present, is the fact that those draft picks netted the Cowboys the nucleus of what would become multi-year Super Bowl Champions. Those picks led to the selection of Emmitt Smith, Darren Woodson, Dixon Edwards, and, by virtue of further trading of picks, Russell Maryland.
Walker finished his career in Minnesota two and one-half years later, never leading the Vikings to the Super Bowl that Lynn believed the Vikings would reach with Walker's acquisition and never rushing for over 1,000 yards. In fact, the Vikings arguably received a better return from wide receiver Jake Reed, a player with whom the Cowboys parted in the Walker deal, than they ever received from Walker, 99-yard, shoeless touchdown run notwithstanding.
Twenty-one years later, the Vikings have the opportunity to recreate the terms of the Walker deal, but in their favor.
While much has changed in the NFL since 1989 causing running backs to be less coveted than they once were, elite running backs, backs that can be assured of rushing for close to 1,500 yards and 15 or more touchdowns if used even modestly, will always be considered at a premium. And that makes Peterson, despite his late-season fumbles in 2009, one of the most coveted players in the NFL.
Three years into his NFL career, Peterson's trade value likely never will again be this high. Although the Vikings have done a good job limiting the wear on Peterson while also showcasing his talents--some more so than others--the cold reality in the NFL is that elite running backs last between five and six years, with a precipitous falloff thereafter.
Peterson's current status as an elite player, and his subsequently likely trade value, coincides with several other decisions that the Vikings need to make in this most peculiar of free-agency and off-season periods. The team clearly needs help along the offensive line and at cornerback and soon will need replacements at outside linebacker and defensive tackle. And, of course, the team needs to address the quarterback position for the long-term.
With the quirks of the 2010 free-agency period impeding the Vikings' ability to sign free agents to address all of the team's needs, the Vikings need to be creative to address short-term needs. This creativity, if properly envisioned, could also help the team address some of the longer-term needs noted above.
If the Vikings re-sign Chester Taylor, a move that the team seems increasingly likely to do, Peterson would become modestly expendable, if not entirely replaceable. Taking advantage of the admonition to sell high, the Vikings ought to at least explore the possible returns on a Peterson trade.
As fortune would have it, there is a team in this year's draft that could use a running back of Peterson's caliber, might think that Peterson is "the missing piece," and might consider parting with numerous picks and players to obtain Peterson. That team is the Seattle Seahawks.
With the sixth and fourteenth picks in the first round of this year's college entry draft, and the eighth pick in the second round, the Seahawks have much to offer the Vikings, and the Vikings much to gain from such an offer. The Seahawks would be pairing Peterson with Matt Hasselbeck, a quarterback whom the Seahawks quizzically have yet to give up on, and a corps of receivers that the Seahawks' brass seems equally puzzlingly assured of. It's the Al Davis syndrome playing out in Seattle in search only of a star-studded running back to bring it all to fruition.
Outsiders know better, of course, but what outsiders know does no harm if the insiders want to play ball. And if the Vikings can convince newly minted coach and GM Pete Carroll that Peterson is their guy, the Vikings might well be able to get much more for something very good but nowhere near as equitable in the long term.
The Vikings could use the sixth and fourteenth picks, along with their own 30th pick, to solidify the offensive line, take the quarterback of the future, pick up a bona fide All-Pro wide-receiver, and still have picks left to select a starting cornerback and starting running back in the waiting...all before the start of the second round.
The fly in the ointment to the proposed Peterson trade with Seattle is that Carroll, the man through whom any deal would have to run, was an assistant for the Vikings when the Walker trade went down. That, or the reality of the depths to which the Seahawks have fallen, might cause Carroll to pause on making a deal for Peterson. If not, perhaps Carroll will view a blockbuster Peterson trade as a measure for remedying his affiliation with the Walker deal.
If Carroll flinches, there's always an absurd deal to be had with Al Davis...
Up Next: Buying Low.