EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Adrian Peterson has had the potential to be that rare post-modern NFL running back playing productively into his 30s. After that extraordinary comeback from knee reconstruction, Emmitt Smith's career rushing record became a realistic if daunting target.
The latest challenge for Peterson has taken a dark turn, though, with league-wide trouble involving domestic violence cases as the backdrop.
Placed on indefinite paid leave by the Minnesota Vikings to focus on his personal life, with a felony child abuse charge against him pending in Texas, Peterson could be finished playing for the year. In 2015, when a trial is expected, he will be 30.
This isn't the career trajectory anyone could have expected following the 2,097 yards he gained in that 2012 season to win the NFL MVP award.
"We felt it was best for him to step away," said general manager Rick Spielman, whose first draft pick with the Vikings was Peterson in the first round in 2007. The roster has been shaped around him ever since.
Spielman didn't directly answer questions Wednesday about whether releasing Peterson was considered or if he would play for the Vikings again. Peterson's salary for 2014 is $11.75 million. His contract has three years left after this, but the Vikings could cut him after the season for a minimal salary-cap hit or restructure the deal.
"We are going to let the legal process and his personal matters take care of themselves, and he will remain on this exempt list until that is accomplished," Spielman said.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has the sole authority to grant and lift the exemption, which retains Peterson's rights for the Vikings without counting against their roster limit. It's available for use "only in unusual circumstances," according to league policy.
Unusual circumstances: exactly what has been going on around the NFL lately.
Another Pro Bowl player, Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, wasn't coincidentally placed on the exempt list on Wednesday after three weeks of indecision regarding his status.
Hardy was convicted in July of assault on a female and communicating threats after the victim said the 6-foot-4, 275-pound player threw her in the bathtub and onto a sofa covered with guns before threatening to kill her. Hardy has appealed the ruling, and a jury trial is set for November.
Hours later, Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was arrested on aggravated assault charges in connection with two altercations at his home in July involving an unidentified woman and their 18-month-old child.
Peterson has been accused of injuring his 4-year-old son by spanking him with a wooden switch, an act he admitted to but insisted he meant no harm and was merely administering the same type of corporal punishment he experienced as a youth.
"What I hope doesn't happen as a result of this is that the perception of NFL players is that we're a bunch of brutes and that we're beating our wives and abusing our children," New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees said, adding: "We're not all in that category.
"Listen, guys are going to make mistakes. There is punishment and consequences for those mistakes. And then once you serve them, you hope everyone can move on."
The league began to feel backlash in July after a two-game suspension of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was widely decried as too soft given video evidence of him dragging his unconscious now-wife out of a casino elevator in February. Rice was arrested but accepted into a diversion program, which upon completion could lead to charges being expunged.
Goodell said later he didn't "get it right" and announced tougher penalties for players regarding domestic violence.
When the indictment against Peterson was levied Friday, the Vikings immediately announced he would sit out of their game Sunday. By Monday, they declared his return after expressing their respect for the due process of the legal system. But then the pitchforks came out around the country, even more swiftly than when Rice's initial suspension was revealed.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton called for Peterson to sit out. The Radisson hotel chain suspended its team sponsorship. Prominent national advertisers, including Anheuser-Busch, raised concern to the league about recent off-the-field problems. Peterson was dropped from several endorsement deals, including athletic apparel giant Nike.
Vikings executives emerged Wednesday from a late-night deliberation to voice regret of their initial decision to let Peterson play.
"We made a mistake," Vikings owner Zygi Wilf said, "and we needed to get this right."
During a 17-minute news conference at Vikings headquarters, the word "right" was used a total of 34 times by Wilf, his co-owner and younger brother Mark Wilf, vice president Kevin Warren, and Spielman.
US Bank spokesman Dana Ripley said the company, a strong candidate for naming rights on the Vikings new stadium, set to open in 2016, agreed with the decision.
"We have been in close communication with the Vikings organization for the past couple of days firmly expressing our perspective," Ripley said.
Meanwhile, Peterson's teammates and coaches tried to keep focus on their game this Sunday at New Orleans, though cornerback Captain Munnerlyn sounded off on the decision to put Peterson on hiatus.
"I think he should be able to play. He hasn't been convicted of anything," Munnerlyn said.
Whatever feelings they have must be put aside. Peterson likely won't be back soon.
"It's important for us to keep a sense of normalcy and a sense of what we're here for, a sense of purpose," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "We're football players. That's our job. That's what we're here to do and not really handle more than that."
AP Sports Writers Brett Martel and Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.
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