Crafting a Contract for Adrian Peterson

Main Takeaway: A unique clause included in a 2009 MLB contract could have important implications for the types of agreements that clubs reach with injury-prone players.

For nearly a decade, few have embodied the concept of an explosive workhorse back like Adrian Peterson has. Entering the 2017 season, Peterson has averaged 266 carries, 4.9 yards per attempt and 11 touchdowns per campaign (excluding 2014 due to suspension).

However, the combination of a season-ending meniscus tear in 2016, an incredibly expensive 2017 club option and the availability of several cheaper and younger free agent running backs culminated in his recent release from the Vikings. Burdened in addition by high salary expectations, Peterson remains without a contract more than two weeks after the start of free agency.

On the one hand, age and injury risk are top of mind for teams contemplating the prospect of signing Peterson. Who would want to commit any substantial amount of money to a 32-year old running back who could easily have less than 40 carries in 2017, as he did last season?

On the other hand, one could argue that Peterson’s meniscus tear has had a disproportionate impact on the league-wide perception of his abilities. Despite his injury history, Peterson is likely to leverage the sterling reputation that he possessed heading into the 2016 season to command a contract structure entailing significantly more than bare bones guarantees. Ask Eric Wright about Peterson’s willingness to compromise.

In light of these conflicting stances, can a contract structure that suits the needs of both parties be devised?

A contract signed by a fellow Texan, in another sport, could hold the answer to this question.

In 2009, free agent pitcher John Lackey signed a 5-year, $82.5M contract with the Boston Red Sox. Despite having a minor history of arm injury, Boston was so concerned with the possibility of Tommy John surgery that they mandated that Lackey agree to the following clause: should he miss an entire season due to an elbow injury, the Red Sox would gain the option to extend Lackey at the league minimum for a sixth season. Both parties ended up happy: a brash Lackey got a rich long-term contract, and the Red Sox protected themselves from a lost season.

This unique clause would appear to be ideal for teams interested in signing free agents with significant injury history, such as Adrian Peterson. Below is an example of a possible Peterson contract that could suit the needs of both club and player:

  • Term: 1 Year
  • Guaranteed Base Salary: $4M
  • Games Played Bonus: $100K per game
  • Clause: If Peterson spends 10 or more weeks on either the Regular Season PUP List, the Injured Reserve List or a combination of the two, the club will acquire an option to extend Peterson’s contract at the league minimum salary for the 2018 season

General comments:

  • The key tradeoff is between guaranteed money and exposure to a lost season
  • While the contract does not guarantee that Peterson will be productive, it does alleviate the team’s most pressing concern (exposure to a lost season)
  • The amount and guaranteed nature of the salary may appear rich at first. However, it is important to remember the potential caliber of Peterson’s performance and the fact that he does face a substantial risk of triggering the club option given his injury history.

What are your thoughts on this type of contract structure?

A reasonable argument could be made that the club option would have limited value should Peterson get injured in 2017. After all, he would have missed the majority of two straight seasons heading into 2018. While I agree with this line of reasoning, the type of contract discussed above would still have the potential to yield much more value to a team, in the event of a Peterson injury, than a standard one-year contract entailing no control over Peterson after 2017.

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