Adrian Peterson is the bell-cow for the Minnesota Vikings, but the team remains steadfast in it’s three-pronged running back approach. The electric, do-it-all Jerick McKinnon will likely see an expanded role in 2016, reducing Matt Asiata‘s already limited touches out of the backfield. Despite the development, general manager Rick Spielman appears open to bringing the four-year veteran back next season.
According to Drew Boylhart of the Huddle Report, the Vikings wants to re-sign Asiata, who is set to become a free agent on March 9th. Asiata re-signed on a one-year deal at the start of free agency last year, and he’ll likely return at a similar price. He played just 198 offensive snaps in 2015, rushing 29 times for 112 yards and catching 19 passes for 132 yards.
Asiata has proven valuable in his four years with the Vikings. When asked to split the load with McKinnon in 2014, he scored 10 total touchdowns (9 rushing, one receiving) and gave the team a reliable presence in the backfield. Without Peterson that year, Asiata and McKinnon combined for 1,108 rushing yards, good enough for the 11th-best total in the NFL. He fumbled just once on 164 rushing attempts and averaged a solid, if unimpressive 3.5 yards per carry.
In Asiata, the Vikings have a player who can contribute as more than just a runner. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, protect the quarterback in passing situations, and fill holes on various special teams units; he played 209 (47.61 percent) special teams snaps in 2015. Even with Peterson, Asiata is the offense’s most dangerous weapon in the red zone. Of his 13 career rushing touchdowns, 12 have come from within the 10-yard line.
Bringing Asiata back in 2016 is a smart investment for the front office. As a fifth-year player, Asiata will be eligible for a veteran-minimum contract, which in turn will keep his cap number low next season. He’ll likely earn a one-year deal with a base salary of $760,000; the minimum for a player with Asiata’s experience. When Mike Zimmer spoke to the media at the Combine last week, he expressed confidence in the running back situation moving forward:
“I think we have to do a better job of continuing trying to get him [Peterson] more space to run so he’s not running into a hundred guys all the time. But I do feel good about McKinnon’s role and being able to take some plays off him because he’s good and also Asiata if we get him back.”