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The greatest hypothetical question for the just-completed Vikings season is, of course, what would have happened to this 7-9 squad had Adrian Peterson played the entire season instead of missing 15 of 16 games as a consequence of his legal problems?
Like all hypothetical questions, it’s impossible to know the answer (unless you have a key to an alternate universe that would play out the 2014 Vikings season with AP in the mix. If you do, please don’t use it on football. Use it on something cool like a version of The Matrix in which Tom Cruise really does get the role of Neo).
In the mean time, all we can do is make an educated guess. And here are three things we think would have happened:
1) First, clearly, it would have benefited the Vikings. We probably don’t need a hypothetical answer to know that. But how much would it have benefited the Vikings?
We’ve heard it suggested that the Vikings might have challenged for the playoffs with Peterson on the roster all year, and that is almost certainly not true. There were too many other holes on this team, and there is also the relative contribution of running backs to victories.
The site Advanced Football Analytics attempts to put a value on players called “Win Probability Added,” which is similar to baseball’s “Wins Above Replacement.” It’s an imperfect stat, but it at least gives us a baseline for a conversation.
In the course of his career, Peterson’s cumulative WPA is 4.15. Yes, just a little more than four wins for his entire career. Even in his best season, Peterson’s WPA was 1.24 (2012, his MVP year). Matt Asiata this year had a WPA of 0.45, good for 14th in the league. So based on raw numbers, even if Peterson had his best season ever, the difference between Peterson and Asiata would have been good enough for fewer than one win. (A really good quarterback can have a WPA for a single season above 5, as Aaron Rodgers did this year. Teddy Bridgewater’s WPA was 1.33 this season, 21st in the NFL and still better than Peterson’s MVP year — underscoring how much more QB play matters than running back play).
Again, this is an imperfect metric. It’s hard to account for just how much Peterson changes a defense’s focus and how he might have helped in both the running and passing games. But the best guess is maybe the Vikings would have finished 8-8 with Peterson. Maybe 9-7 in an extraordinary case. And quite possibly they would have finished 7-9, just as they did.
2) Had Peterson played all year, we’re fairly sure there would have been at least a slightly different evaluation of Bridgewater and Mike Zimmer. Both had strong first years, providing hope for the future. But both also had grades that had the caveat “considering they were without their best player for almost the entire season” attached. Had they produced close to the same seasons with Peterson as they did without him, we imagine the view would have been complimentary but not as much so for both Zimmer and Bridgewater.
3) The Vikings would now be facing a difficult offseason decision based purely on football. Peterson will turn 30 before his NFL suspension is over and well before the 2015 season. He is due to count more than $15 million against next year’s salary cap but the Vikings can cut him and pay a small fraction of that — which would free up more money to fix things like the offensive line. Based on the shelf life of NFL running backs and other holes on the team, parting ways with Peterson might be a prudent, if unpopular, decision. Had the Vikings gone into the offseason with this decision looming based solely on football, it would be very difficult to sell to the public. As it is, they face a similarly tough decision, but if they part ways with Peterson they can at least sell it as a parting of ways and a fresh start — maybe even something mutually agreed upon by both sides.
We had a chance to chat this morning with Twins GM Terry Ryan for a Q&A that will run in print and online later this week. But as often happens, we had more material than we could cram into the allotted print space. Here, then, are a few relevant leftovers from the interview — along with one definitive quote that will appear in the print version as well.
Q The narrative early in the offseason seemed to be that the payroll would likely be around what it was a season ago. What happened in the last month?
A Depending on the player and depending on the years and those types of decisions, usually ownership has allowed us to go up or down. The (Ervin) Santana signing was out of need and necessity. We need starting pitching and he was still on the board. He had interest in us, and vice-versa so we went and did that. Yeah, it affected the payroll, but I don’t recall Jim Pohlad or myself or anybody associated with the Twins saying we were going to be at a certain number.
Q Do you need more quality arms these days than you used to?
A Historically, I think it takes quite a few pitchers and I don’t think it matters if we’re talking about 1990 or 2015. You always need quantity, and if you have a combination of quality and quantity you’re in very good shape. Through the years we’ve had numbers to pick from and people down at Triple-A or maybe Double-A that you could reach down and get. But if you look at the playoff teams last year, for instance, they had people who were close or ready to go when they had a disappointment, injury or setback of some sort. Kyle Gibson showed signs last year. There was too much inconsistency but he got through the year, we didn’t have to worry about the pitch limit or protection. Now we’re beyond that and we’re hoping he takes the next step forward. (Phil) Hughes had a very good year for us, and he’s 28 and you have to think there’s more in the tank with him in terms of upside. Santana has a very good track record, but (Ricky) Nolasco had a disappointing year. We’ve got people there where you’d like to think with some tweaking, luck and work and all the things that come with it, maybe even the surroundings or environment, that we’ve got a chance, for the most part, to put a guy out there that will give us a chance. Some of those younger guys, you never know how quick some of them are going to come. Alex Meyer (who turns 25 on Jan. 3), it’s about his turn. (Trevor) May (who turned 25 in September), it’s about his turn. Those guys have plenty of minor league innings. You’d like to think they’d take a step forward and put some pressure on some of these other fellas. You’re not going to get through the schedule without having to reach down. I would think our pitching, we have (Mike) Pelfrey and (Tommy) Milone and a few other guys in that area, we have a chance to be able to at least have the type of depth you’re going to have to have to get through the schedule with consistency and winning games.
Q Have we already seen the biggest moves the team is likely to make this offseason, or is there still room for more acquisitions, either by free agency or trade?
A I don’t think there is going to be that type of impact signing. I’m not going to ever say never because you can’t tell. I never thought I’d be able to do something with Kendrys Morales last year, but right now the impact signing, no. But we still have some things we should accomplish here before we head to Fort Myers.
Final word from Ryan: “One thing that’s apparent in today’s game with Kansas City and the Pirates and some of the other teams from smaller markets is that there aren’t any excuses. There never should be, but there aren’t any now. They’ve proved that. To a degree, we did in the mid-2000s and late 2000s, but I think it’s more apparent now with the teams that are getting into the postseason that there’s no reason anybody should be making any excuses.”
If you’re looking for a very good and smart read about mental health and how it relates to the current state of social unease, you will find it right here in a thoughtful piece by former Minnesota high school basketball player, former Iowa State player and former first-round NBA draft pick Royce White.
If you’d prefer not to think about such things or make White an easy punchline, we suppose that’s your business, too.
A taste of what White — whose anxiety disorder has been well-chronicled — wrote:
Mental health is an issue that requires and amplifies our individual and collective responsibility to ourselves and others. It’s a mirror that reflects who we really are — yet we keep running from our reflections. We can debate cause and effect, but the facts allow for minimal wiggle room: our most downtrodden communities are entrenched in a cycle of social dysfunction; our police employ brutal and sometimes deadly tactics in their interactions with these communities; and within the debate about who and what is right or wrong, the most significant aspect of the discussion is — as usual — absent. Our culture inspires and subsequently neglects serious mental illness in too many of its citizens. We can no longer afford to perpetuate this problem by stubbornly refusing to address it.
The Wolves play in Cleveland tonight, and much of the natural focus will be on Kevin Love and Andrew Wiggins — the two main pieces in this summer’s blockbuster trade. Anthony Bennett, too, was a big part of that deal.
Lest we forget, though, there was a third component — one that the Wolves had some control over. They could have simply had a 2015 first round pick from the Cavaliers that previously belonged to Miami. Instead, they involved the 76ers and dealt that pick to get Thad Young.
Per Grantland’s Zach Lowe, this is how he views that move in hindsight:
The Wolves will regret tossing the giddy Sixers a Heat first-round pick for Thaddeus Young in the Kevin Love deal. The Cavs and Wolves didn’t need the Sixers to complete the basic trade, and given Miami’s downside — a downside playing out right now — the rebuilding Wolves should have held on to a pick that could fall in the mid-teens. Young’s a nice player and a great guy, but he can’t rebound or defend his position and he’s stopped shooting 3s (like basically everyone else here).
This portion of the trade was debated at the time it happened. It’s easy to say it backfired for the Wolves now that a season that was going to be a rebuild anyway is in shambles thanks to injuries. But there is also something to be said for having a veteran like Young on a roster full of first- and second-year players. In our mind, it’s too convenient to say the Wolves erred here, and it’s dangerous to always stockpile young assets without any concern for the present.
If Young wasn’t here, maybe Bennett gets more minutes. But maybe more minutes isn’t what’s best for Bennett right now because playing time is a privilege, not a right, and is a thing that should be earned when possible. If Corey Brewer wasn’t here last year and early this year, maybe Shabazz Muhammad would have played more. But maybe by sitting, watching and improving he has become the player he is now.
Sure, he was raised in Cleveland. But he arrived in Minnesota for college and has spent most of his adult life here. That’s 40 years now, and that gives him some pretty keen insight into the psyche of a Minnesota sports fan.
So when Saunders is asked how he thinks Minnesota fans feel about Kevin Love — one day before the Wolves are set to face their former player, albeit on the road, for the first time — Saunders’ comments are reflective not necessarily of how he personally feels but of how four decades of life in Minnesota lead him to believe fans feel.
“Minnesota people are pretty loyal,” Saunders said. “When you turn on Minnesota, they don’t forgive you.”
This is so very, very true. Minnesotans pick their villains, and when it comes to former players much of the reaction has to do with their perception of how it all ended. Chuck Knoblauch is a prime example. And Kevin Love will be another. Right or wrong, that’s how we roll.
We’re sure that most rational fans will understand that and either ignore the story entirely or understand that Flip is correct. We’ll just take a peek into the ESPN comments to be sure and — OH NO! Here’s a small taste — maybe not the hottest of the hot takes, the center of the hot takes sun, but the cleanest string we could find (click to enlarge):
|Arizona||1/3/15 3:35 PM|
|Baltimore||1/3/15 7:15 PM|
|NY Rangers||7:30 PM|
|Los Angeles||8:00 PM|
|UMass Lowell||1:00 PM|
|Johnson (TN)||5:00 PM|
|Southern Miss||6:00 PM|
|North Florida||6:00 PM|
|Cleveland State||6:00 PM|
|Southern Arkansas||6:30 PM|
|Howard Payne||6:30 PM|
|Sam Houston St|
|Mount St Marys||7:00 PM|
|Midwestern St||7:00 PM|
|Tennessee St||7:00 PM|
|North Texas||7:00 PM|
|Alice Lloyd||7:00 PM|
|Morehead State||7:00 PM|
|Nebraska Omaha||7:05 PM|
|Middle Tennessee||8:00 PM|
|Saint Josephs||8:00 PM|
|San Francisco||8:00 PM|
|Stephen F Austin||9:00 PM|
|Santa Clara||9:00 PM|
|UC Irvine||10:00 PM|
|Ark-Pine Bluff||10:00 PM|
|Southern U||10:59 PM|
|(15) Arizona State||36||FINAL|
|Texas A&M||1:00 PM|
|Notre Dame||12/30/14 2:00 PM|
|(13) Georgia||12/30/14 5:45 PM|
|Maryland||12/30/14 9:00 PM|
|(9) Ole Miss||12/31/14 11:30 AM|
|(21) Boise State||12/31/14 3:00 PM|
|(8) Miss State||12/31/14 7:00 PM|
|(10) Georgia Tech|
|(19) Auburn||1/1/15 11:00 AM|
|(7) Michigan State||1/1/15 11:30 AM|
|(16) Missouri||1/1/15 12:00 PM|
|(2) Florida State||1/1/15 4:00 PM|
|(5) Ohio State||1/1/15 7:30 PM|
|Houston||1/2/15 11:00 AM|
|Iowa||1/2/15 2:20 PM|
|(11) Kansas State||1/2/15 5:45 PM|
|Washington||1/2/15 9:15 PM|
|East Carolina||1/3/15 11:00 AM|
|Toledo||1/4/15 8:00 PM|
|Holy Cross||11:00 AM|
|UNC Greensboro||12:00 PM|
|Savannah State||12:00 PM|
|St Gregorys||1:00 PM|
|Norfolk State||1:30 PM|
|New Mexico St||2:00 PM|
|Loyola Marymount||3:00 PM|
|Fla Gulf Coast||3:00 PM|
|Nebraska Omaha||4:00 PM|
|Utah Valley U|
|Robert Morris||5:00 PM|
|Kennesaw St||5:00 PM|
|St Francis-PA||6:00 PM|
|(21) West Virginia|
|SE Louisiana||6:00 PM|
|Southern Miss||6:00 PM|
|Western Ky||6:00 PM|
|Chicago State||6:00 PM|
|Cleveland State||6:00 PM|
|East Tenn St|
|Ohio State||6:00 PM|
|Ark-Pine Bluff||7:00 PM|
|(19) Miss State|
|Northwestern St||7:00 PM|
|(18) Oklahoma St|
|James Madison||7:00 PM|
|Texas Southern||7:00 PM|
|Bowling Green||7:00 PM|
|Prairie View||7:00 PM|
|South Dakota St||7:00 PM|
|Old Dominion||8:00 PM|
|(5) Texas A&M||8:00 PM|
|San Diego||8:00 PM|
|(10) Duke||8:00 PM|
|UT Martin||8:00 PM|
|(12) Nebraska||8:00 PM|
|Coll of Idaho||8:00 PM|
|St Marys-CA||9:00 PM|