Off-The-Field Issues

2015 Minnesota Vikings: Judge David Doty Rules in Favor of Adrian Peterson (UPDATE: Peterson on the Exempt List)

FURTHER UPDATE: The NFL has released a statement, the most important tidbit of which is that Adrian Peterson has been returned to the NFL Roster Exemption/Commissioner’s Permission List.

Judge Doty’s order did not contain any determinations concerning the fairness of the appeals process under the CBA, including the commissioner’s longstanding authority to appoint a designee to act as a hearing officer. Even so, we believe strongly that Judge Doty’s order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court’s role in reviewing arbitration decisions. As a result, we have filed a notice of appeal to have the ruling reviewed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the interim, Adrian Peterson will be returned to the Commissioner Exempt List pending further proceedings by appeals officer Harold Henderson or a determination by the Eighth Circuit Court.

It has been the NFL’s contention that the courts had no authority to review arbitration decisions and it sounds like they will use this argument once more in appeal. As far as I know, and this is an educated guess, the Vikings and Peterson cannot have contact with each other while he is on the Exempt List until the new league year, and he cannot be traded (until the new league year, I believe—the exempt list does not prevent a trade by itself).

Wrong again! According to Ben Goessling at ESPN, the Exempt List DOES allow a player and a team to communicate. This means all the analysis for why that matters (below) is applicable.

The Eighth Circuit Court holds court one week a year in mid-April, and rulings come out in late May and early June. No word yet on what it means for the NFL April 15 hearing on Adrian Peterson’s suspension, because… well, he’s not suspended anymore.

UPDATE: Per Ian Rapaport of the NFL Network, the NFL will appeal Judge Doty’s decision, presumably seeking an injunction while the case is settling in a District Court.

In important news, the @NFL is expected to appeal the Adrian Peterson ruling handed down by Judge Doty. Explanation coming online.

— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) February 26, 2015

This does not preclude a second arbitration hearing “under the old policy,” though I suspect if it happened, the NFL would find a way to uphold their own ruling again. No word yet on whether or not the NFL will challenge both rulings (the retroactivity one and the one arguing Henderson had the authority to rule on the old policy as well) or just one.

As Andrew Brandt notes, courts are increasingly hesitant to overrule the rulings of an arbitrator, and that may include the ruling over what an arbitrator can rule over, as it were—meaning courts can defer to an arbitrator’s interpretation of their own scope of power, and increasingly do (as friends in the legal community have confirmed to me).

The Eighth District Court may rule that Judge Doty was correct in ruling against the NFL for punishing Peterson according to the old conduct policy but incorrect with regards to the arbitrator’s scope—that is, the District Court may argue Henderson’s ruling that Peterson’s suspension is upheld under the old policy still applies.


According to former Minnesota Viking Robert Smith of ESPN, Judge David Doty has ruled in favor of Adrian Peterson and the NFLPA in their court case contesting Harold Henderson’s ruling to suspend Adrian Peterson. That does not precisely reinstate Peterson, but it does overturn Henderson’s ruling. Text as follows: 

CONCLUSION Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. The petition to vacate arbitration award [ECF No. 2] is granted; and

2. The case is remanded for such further proceedings consistent with this order as the CBA may permit.

The Court found that the NFL violated the “essence of the CBA” by violating industrial common law and argued that the Ray Rice precedent was proof; the NFL’s attempt to distinguish the cases didn’t pass muster.

According to Doty, “Although Henderson purported to rely on factual differences between Rice and this case, he did not explain how those differences would justify a different result.” The arbitration is therefore vacated, although I’m not sure if this means Adrian Peterson is reinstated or whether or not this forces the NFL to reconsider the NFLPA’s appeal against his suspension (functionally retrying the case under the old policy). Regardless, this should mean that Peterson will be reinstated soon because his punishment exceeded the bounds of the old policy.

The NFLPA has said that Adrian Peterson’s suspension has been overturned, while the text of the ruling doesn’t seem as obvious to me.

EDIT: My intuition was correct—he has not been reinstated, the arbitration has been rebuked. Peterson’s and the NFLPA’s appeal of suspension with the NFL is active once more and it will be decided upon by the old policy.

The NFL released the following, five-word statement: “We are reviewing the decision.”

The NFLPA released the following statement:

“This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness. Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players’ rights. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”

The NFL has legal recourse in this case and can file an appeal and can potentially seek an injunction on the stay of suspension granted by the court, functionally re-suspending him. That would take it up to the circuit court.

Though no players can be traded until the league year starts on March 10, the ruling as it stands currently clears a lot of things up for the Vikings as soon as the confusion (confusing on my end anyway) about his immediate or eventual reinstatement is resolved, the first of which is that every member of the team can contact Peterson (Ed. – as soon as the NFL rules once more), including head coach Mike Zimmer. As Ben Goessling at ESPN points out, that may go a long way to resolving the tension Peterson has with the team.

But if Peterson is unsure who he can trust, and uneasy about whether people will be honest with him, Zimmer’s words at least have the potential to cut through that.

“Coach Zimmer — I love that guy, even though I only played one game for him,” Peterson said on Thursday night. “Coach (Norv) Turner, Kirby (Wilson), the running backs coach, I have a lot of respect for those guys there. But it boils down to just my family and I being happy.”

. . .

It would ultimately be Zimmer, Turner, and Wilson who Peterson deals with on a daily basis, not ownership or the front office. Perhaps Zimmer can, at the very least, convince Peterson to sign up for one year of holy terror on the field, prove to everyone what kind of player he still is and move on from there. Perhaps Peterson’s concerns are too deep-seeded for that to work. But it’s clear the coach earned Peterson’s respect in their short time working together, and the Vikings should at least give Zimmer a chance to try.

It also means the Vikings can make a decision on Adrian Peterson (Ed – again, pending the NFL ruling once again), whether that means cutting, restructuring or agreeing to a trade in principle with another team. Actually being able to hold discussions with Peterson before the league year starts could be massive, because it means the Vikings can plan out an approach towards free agency with real numbers and an updated needs list in hand instead of the hope that Peterson restructures.

Cutting Adrian Peterson on April 15 won’t have a lot of value when the highest value free agent signings are done within a couple days of free agency’s open on March 10.

Those discussions with Peterson will also be critical to allowing him to talk with the teams he could be traded to or the Vikings if Peterson has requests or demands involved with the trade, or if those teams have the same—including a restructured contract.

No movement can be made on the Adrian Peterson front without the ability to talk to him, even if discussions with his agent would have been rosy—which evidently is not the case, given the heated exchange and physical altercation the Vikings Vice President of Player Personnel Rob Brzezinski had with agent Ben Dogra.

Clearing the air and clarifying what Peterson wants and needs will be a big step forward on concretizing his status with the team. It will also accelerate any negotiations with Peterson or other teams—teams may not pay as much or be too hesitant to pull the trigger if they are worried about Adrian Peterson’s hearing with the NFL on April 15.

It also means the Vikings can agree to a trade—although not concretely—before free agency opens and teams fill needs. After all, if a team signs Stevan Ridley or Shane Vereen in free agency they may not perceive the need that would drive a trade for Peterson even if he is a clear upgrade. By allowing trade discussions and agreements-in-principle to form, the Vikings can create a trade deal along with Peterson that will allow them to target teams that need a running back before they sign one in free agency.

Judge Doty ruled that Adrian Peterson’s suspension should not be applied because it he should not be punished ex post facto for a policy he did not violate at the time the act was committed, but did not rule, as the NFLPA contends, that Harold Henderson didn’t have authority as an arbitrator or was not an impartial arbitrator.

EDIT: As someone points out in the comments, my wording here was not very good or precise and the paragraph has been modified. Henderson overstepped his bounds by ruling on a separate grounds that was outside of his capacity to rule and therefore overstepped his boundary, but no judgment was made by Doty that stated Henderson does not have the general authority of an arbitrator.

Should the Vikings cut Adrian Peterson, which seems unlikely, they would save $13 million in cap space. They currently carry $20 million in space right now with no priority free agents to resign, according to OverTheCap.com. Trading Peterson would incur the same cap benefits.

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25 Comments

    1. On that front there is some confusion, but I understand that coaches are prohibited to meet with players until OTA’s have started. That puts us back to Mid-April.

    2. CalVkg Zimmer has no money rights, so think again..!????? AD is about money right now – not take a pay-cut….So it don’t matter how good Zimmer is at recruiter….

      1. guess you missed this one…

        CalVkg Feb 20, 2015 at 10:55 pm

        let’s not be naive here. coming out and saying he feels ‘uneasy’ about a lack of loyalty from the FO doesn’t cost AD much. he won’t interact with the suits on a daily basis, and the players and coaches won’t mind him saying this, they’d still welcome him back just the same

        what saying this now might do for him is it might buy him an extra million or more as he and his agent jockey for negotiating position if the vikings ask him to take a pay cut. jared allen did something similar before his last year when he said he wouldn’t take a pay cut, and the vikes paid him in full. this will be AD’s last great contract and i’m sure he wants to maximize it as much as possible

  1. Arif,
    How come Bud Dupree isn’t mentioned in your D-line scouting article? It was easier to post here than other site.

    1. No agility scores (three cone or short shuttle) means he can’t run through the filters. Obviously, he’s an immense physical talent.

      1. Thanks for responding. That makes sense for the point you were making. I know it isn’t popular but I really hope they draft Dupree. I just think Mike Zimmer would be the guy who would know how to use him and make him a star. Whether he’s Barr’s bookend or Griffen’s, I just think that’s too much game-changing potential to bypass. (I know he’s not a prototypical coverage Will, but I’m guessing Zimmer would find somewhere to put him, whether on the line or if he’s good enough in coverage). You should read this:
        http://bleacherreport.com/articles/2378797-kentucky-edge-rusher-bud-dupree-has-rare-talent-but-raw-skills
        It sounds like the Vikes are looking LBer. Everything I read from Twitter from the reporters at the combine was that the Vikes were spending a lot of time with the big DE/LB’s, the MLB’s, and Shaq Thompson. Both Shaq Thompson and Bud Dupree spoke with Adam Zimmer (Shaq spoke with Mike Zimmer as well), and both said they felt they might be a good fit. So it seems that both are on the team’s radar. I just think every team that bypasses on Dupree because he’s raw is going to regret it. (Plus, he may be raw, but he’s still performed pretty well and everything I’ve read is that he’s humble and very coachable).

  2. Actually, the judge did rule that Henderson overstepped. On p15-16 of the rulling: “…Henderson strayed beyond the issues submitted by the NFLPA and in doing so exceeded his authority. As a result, vacatur is warranted on this basis as well.”

    1. Sorry, I didn’t make that clear. What I meant to say was that the judge did not rule on Henderson’s power as an abritrator in the general sense. What you’re referring to is a sentence where the judge says Henderson overstepped the question at hand—ie cannot rule on things that are not the subject of the hearing (which is what he did in a separate part of his ruling).

  3. Arif, what timeline, if any, is there for the NFL to rule again under the old rule? Is it likely that they will drag their feet while “deliberating” on this until, say, April 15th? Nothing would surprise me at this point

  4. Great report Arif.
    Leads me to think the Vikings are pretty much in a Win, Win situation now.
    We’ll have a much better opportunity to trade him and if that doesn’t pan out, we get AD back in the backfield, maybe at a reduced salary, with a lot to prove;
    Win/Win!

  5. Arif,

    Im an employment law attorney in CA and a big Vikings fan. Youre correct, the Court did not reinstate Peterson. They simply vacated the arbitration decision and remanded for further proceedings in accordance with the Court’s decision. It is important to note that the Court’s ruling was pretty express in stating that the new policy cannot be applied retroactively to Peterson. Therefore the new arbitration proceedings that will occur will apply the old policy. I don’t claim to be an expert on that policy, but my understanding is that a 2 game penalty is the max penalty for a first time offender. Assuming that is true, then I would expect AP to be reinstated immediately as he has already served more than that penalty.

      1. I’m not really sure about salary. Employment law is different than labor law, which is what is being applied here. The interesting part is that the NFL’s decision stated that AP could be reinstated in April. The arbitration decision affirmed the NFL decision. The Federal Court opinion only vacated the arbitration decision. So theoretically AP should still be suspended with a new arbitration decision coming soon. But the NFL took AP off suspension and put him on the NFL Exemption List. I honestly don’t even know what that means as far whether the NFL is still enforcing the suspension (with its associated date to be eligible for reinstatement) or putting AP into some limbo status where he has to wait for the Circuit Court of Appeals to rule on the issue before he is eligible to be reinstated. Another interesting question is whether AP is continuing to comply with all of the NFL’s conditions for reinstatement or not. It may turn out that the reinstatement date comes and goes and he doesn’t even apply for reinstatement because he hasn’t been jumping through all the hoops the placed in front of him.

  6. I think this might have worked better, as far as timing, if the ruling upheld. Now, this could drag out for a very long time.

  7. You don’t understand the Win Win concept, it’s a win for the Vikings, not win win. Win win is when both parties win, fyi.

    1. My win/win meant we either get to keep AD and he tears it up OR we trade him for draft picks or players= Win/Win. Simple.

      1. Jacksonville Jaguars is in the running back market, right now ! And by far the most cap room in the entire NFL ! Jags Interested In Moving Out Of No. 3 Pick ..Could that be a possibility to trade AP ? That spot would be sweet ! We could land Leonard Williams, DT, USC Best Player in the Draft. Can line up anywhere on DL…… Or should we get a QB if one fall’s to #3 Just kidding..! #3 and #11 and free some cap room and headaches..!!! That would be so sweet…!

  8. In my twisted theory, the NFL does NOT want Peterson in Minny. ( Insert reason here.) I can see it now. They’re gonna keep us hanging with the legal threats until we decide enough is enough, and part ways with him. Then they’ll decide everything is all good. Hopefully I’m wrong.

  9. This just keep getting worse as time goes by ~ AP might be 31 by the time he plays again ~ << Just kidding ~

    Brian Murphy @murphPPress Follow

    Quick call to Court of Appeals clerk, who says briefings, hearings make late May possible, most likely June until resolution. #Vikings #NFL
    5:32 PM – 26 Feb 2015

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