Adrian Peterson looked up at the scoreboard at Turchin Stadium, and a smile crossed his face.
He was just asked how long he wanted to play and if he planned to redefine the expectations of how long running backs can be effective. Then he saw the No. 37 on the scoreboard and decided to go with that. Five more years. It seemed like a reasonable figure for the 32-year-old.
“It’s a good number,” Peterson said. “Approaching 40.”
The early reviews at Saints camp make it sound like anything is possible. Players have gushed over the running back’s ability during organized team activities, marveling over his burst and stride length. It’s only the first look, and the players are participating without pads. The real football hasn’t started, but he’s off to a good start.
Peterson knows people doubt his ability to come back from a knee injury that limited him last season. He knows people think he can’t be an elite running back at this age. All of that fuels him. And perhaps it says something about how he feels that he’s thinking about 40, which is well down the road from 32.
“I’d be lying to you say it doesn’t give you a chip (on your shoulder). Especially being a competitor," Peterson said. "It’s not my main focus. It’s something that drives you a little bit. After 30, because it was the same back then. ‘Oh, he’s 30.’ Then I ended up leading the league in 2015. Same thing the next year. Stuff will continue to repeat itself until I finish.”
New Orleans is the place Peterson wanted to be. He studied each team that showed interest in acquiring him, including the Patriots and Falcons. He watched video. Studied the stats. He watched how the offensive line performed and how the passing games operated. Then he looked at the defenses and even special teams.
He said the process was thorough. He wanted to make the right decision and go to the team that was right for him. That ended up being the Saints.
Now he thinks that the offense will help him get yards and looks he didn’t see in Minnesota, when defenses used to stack the box because they knew that the ball was going to No. 28. And even when it didn’t, those defenses were probably happy to guess wrong and not get beat by Peterson.
“Obviously, the best passing team in the league. Just adding more to the run game,” Peterson said. “Putting yourself in a position to be more dominant in the run game. It just makes it hard for teams to matchup again. That’s something I’m looking forward to.”
The Saints agree. It’s yet to be seen how the backfield comes together and who will get the touches. But the team has three dynamic players in Peterson, Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who all bring different skills to the table and should be able to create mismatches.
But Brees sees the same possibilities. He’s been watching Peterson in practices and knows how this team uses its running backs. When pairing that with the passing game, he thinks Peterson might get some opportunities he’s never had before.
“Our offense is conducive to that,” Brees said. “We do a lot with our backs. I think he is going to be able to do some stuff in this offense that maybe he hasn’t done over the course of his career, just because we require some versatility from that position.”
Peterson is under contract with New Orleans for two seasons. He might not reach 37 or 38 with the Saints, but he should have the opportunity to keep stretching the limits on how long running backs can play as long as he produces.
This was the spot Peterson wanted to be. He sees it as the right opportunity. He should get the looks he wants and enough touches to make his mark. All he has to do now is get on the field, stay on the field and produce.