Adrian Peterson to undergo surgery
Image courtesy of Vikings.com

Less than a month after losing Teddy Bridgewater for the season, the Minnesota Vikings were dealt another staggering blow to their backfield. According to reports from ESPN’s Josina Anderson, running back Adrian Peterson will undergo surgery this Thursday to repair his torn meniscus.

Peterson suffered the injury in Sunday’s win over the Green Bay Packers, though a timetable wasn’t set for his return. Anderson, who broke the news on Twitter, reports Peterson’s “bucket handle tear” requires a minimum of three months and maximum of six months recovery time. If that’s indeed the case, Peterson may have played his last snap for the Vikings in 2016 and beyond.

If the Vikings continue their winning ways, there’s a chance Peterson is back in time for the playoffs. That’s the hope, per USA Today’s Tom Pelissero, but there’s also the issue of Peterson’s contract moving forward.

Next season, Peterson’s salary cap hit rises to $18 million. He’s also due a $6 million roster bonus, putting the Vikings at the center of a difficult decision in early March. Keep Peterson, and there’s less money to spend on the team’s up-and-coming stars. Cut him, and the Vikings suddenly find themselves without, arguably, the greatest player in franchise history.

Given general manager Rick Spielman’s recent draft hauls, keeping Peterson through 2017 seems the least likely scenario. He’s a 31-year-old running back who will carry the team’s highest salary cap hit next season. With Jerick McKinnon waiting in the wings and a supremely talented crop of backs declaring for the NFL Draft, Spielman has options outside of eating Peterson’s expensive contract.

The loss of Peterson, though, puts even more pressure on Sam Bradford to lead the Vikings this season. He obliterated expectations on Sunday, but that was one outing in a 16-game season. There’s plenty of football left to play, and the Vikings find themselves in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar situation.

Defenses will surely adjust to a Peterson-less Vikings offense, forcing Bradford to throw Minnesota through more games than originally anticipated. And with McKinnon or Asiata in the backfield, offensive coordinator Norv Turner will likely add more shotgun looks to his game plans.

This isn’t the 2016 season the Vikings expected, but it’s the one they’re built to survive. Mike Zimmer is still the head coach, his defense is quickly ascending into the league’s upper echelon, and the team is still 2-0.