Should (not could) Peterson play again this season?

In the Vikings’ 27-21 loss to the Raiders this past Sunday, everyone’s favorite running back, Adrian Peterson, left the game in the first quarter with an ankle injury. After having an MRI Monday, Mark Craig of the Star Tribune reported , “Peterson suffered a high left ankle sprain and will be in a walking boot through at least Thursday.” Frazier said the injury was a “Grade-1” type sprain and that the MRI showed there was a “little bit of ligament damage.” Much of the talk the rest of the week will certainly be about whether or not Peterson is capable of playing this Sunday when the Vikings travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. Instead though, I propose we ask, not can he play but, should he play this weekend (or, for that matter, the rest of the season)?

Allow me to explain:

The season is over and everyone knows it. Even the most optimistic, “the glass is half full,” fans have accepted it. And with that fact now being universally recognized across the board, what does the team gain by keeping Adrian Peterson in at running back?  Not much. And I’d even go further to say that putting AP back in this season could not only hurt our franchise back but could also hurt the team in the long term.

The team, at this point, needs to focus on the development and observation of some of its younger players. Peterson’s injury gives the Vikings an opportunity to see what they have in our back-up running backs, Toby Gerhart and Lorenzo Booker. Can Gerhart be an effective back who deserves an increased share of the workload? What is Booker capable of? The Vikings know what they have in Peterson. They know he is worthy of the big franchise contract he just received. But if the Vikings chose to treat the rest of the year somewhat like preseason and have Gerhart and Booker handle the majority of rushing, I believe we may gain insight into their real potential.

Another issue to take into consideration is whether or not it’s worth putting more mileage on Peterson’s ‘life-span,’ so-to-speak, as an NFL running back. It is not uncommon for running backs to have shorter careers due to injuries and the overall wear-and-tear they take as a result of handling a higher workload. Especially someone who plays with Peterson’s physicality and power. Scott McDowell, a contributor at Bleacher Report, did a piece in 2010 about the decline in production after a running back hits the age of 30. He includes a chart that displays how overall rushing yards, yards-per-carry, touchdowns, etc… all begin to taper at that age. (The chart also shows the age of 26-27 being the strongest period.)

Peterson, who is now 26, and the Vikings may benefit by reserving some of his time and allowing him to remain on the sidelines; possibly acting as a mentor and coach to Gerhart and Booker.

There are a lot of uncertainties and issues that need to be addressed before this team can realistically be a contender for Superbowl Champion again. Everyone can agree though that, All-Day is not one of them. So, I pose the question to all of you:  Should (not could) Adrian Peterson play again in the 2011 season?