The Minnesota Vikings were already going to face a difficult decision this winter about Adrian Peterson, with the star running back turning 30 next year.
That was before the public relations problem his child abuse case created for the team. The stiff punishment delivered by the NFL on Tuesday, a suspension without pay for at least the rest of the season, put his future with the Vikings in further doubt.
Commissioner Roger Goodell told Peterson he will not be considered for reinstatement before April 15 for his violation of the league's personal conduct policy. Peterson, who pleaded no contest on Nov. 4 to misdemeanor reckless assault for injuries to his 4-year-old son, planned an appeal that the NFL Players Association pushed to be handled by a neutral arbitrator.
Peterson's salary for the season was $11.75 million. He will keep the money accrued while on the special exempt list he was placed on Sept. 17. But the NFL's punishment has now amounted to a 14-game ban, with six unpaid weeks. That's the equivalent of a fine of more than $4.1 million.
There are three years and $45 million remaining on his contract, but none of it is guaranteed. The Vikings would take only a $2.4 million hit on their 2015 salary cap if they cut him before next season.
Even if Peterson were to win a shorter suspension with an appeal, the Vikings actually playing him yet this year would be an implausible scenario given the heat they have taken and the long time Peterson has been away from the team. The Vikings have six games left and host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
For now, the only game Peterson will be a part of is the back-and-forth between the league and the union over the player discipline process.
The NFLPA sharply rebuked the league for what it labeled as inconsistency and unfairness. The NFL's words were even stronger, with a nearly 1,600-word statement spelling out the conditions for Peterson's return to the field and describing the reasons for the punishment.
The union's attempt to at least temporarily reinstate Peterson from the exempt list failed. The grievance filed against the league last week was overturned on Tuesday by the arbitrator who heard the arguments, according to a person with knowledge of the decision. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.
Goodell's letter to Peterson cited "aggravating circumstances" for the enhanced penalty, pointing to the child's age and the significant physical difference between him and his son.
"Further, the injury inflicted on your son includes the emotional and psychological trauma to a young child who suffers criminal physical abuse at the hands of his father," Goodell wrote. "Second, the repetitive use of a switch in this instance is the functional equivalent of a weapon, particularly in the hands of someone with the strength of an accomplished professional athlete."
Goodell also came down on Peterson for showing "no meaningful remorse" for hurting the boy and expressed concern that he "may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future."
The union has accused the league of overstepping bounds spelled out in the collective bargaining agreement.
"The decision by the NFL to suspend Adrian Peterson is another example of the credibility gap that exists between the agreements they make and the actions they take. Since Adrian's legal matter was adjudicated, the NFL has ignored their obligations and attempted to impose a new and arbitrary disciplinary proceeding," the NFLPA said.
The NFL and Peterson's camp have even disagreed about qualifying counselors.
Goodell directed Peterson to meet with Dr. April Kuchuk, an instructor in the New York University Department of Psychiatry and a forensic consultant to the New York City District Attorney's offices and New York courts, by Dec. 1. Kuchuk will design a program of counseling, therapy and community service for Peterson.
The league said Peterson made Dr. Cynthia Winston, a professor of psychology at Howard University contacted by his attorney, available Sunday to meet with Kuchuk about Peterson and case, but Winston advised Kuchuk she does not have a background in child abuse. Kuchuk told the NFL it's "essential" for her meet personally with Peterson to use the types of cognitive and behavioral therapies that Winston does not provide.
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