FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2014, file photo, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson speaks to the media after pleading no contest to an assault charge in Conroe, Texas. (AP)
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Adrian Peterson's last appearance in the Minnesota locker room was nearly 10 weeks ago. The Vikings have played all but one game this season without his swift and strong running ability.
Optimism for his return remained among Peterson's teammates, particularly following his plea agreement earlier this month that freed him from the court system with only a misdemeanor charge and probation requirements.
The hope, now, has vanished.
"We know now he's not coming through those doors and coming back this year to be on our team," cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said Wednesday, the day after the NFL gave Peterson a suspension without pay for at least the rest of the season. "We're kind of hurt that he's not, but we knew it was kind of coming, so we just have to move on."
Commissioner Roger Goodell ruled Peterson violated the personal conduct policy for the severe injuries to his 4-year-old son he acknowledged to authorities occurred from corporal punishment with a wooden switch.
Even if Peterson were to shorten his suspension with a successful appeal, the Vikings actually using him yet this year would be an implausible scenario given the heat they took for initially reinstating him to the roster. Then add in the long time Peterson has been away from practices and meetings, let alone games.
"I guess it is a sense of knowing that it is over with. Kind of, I guess, puts people at ease. It's not what we wanted, but at the same time we hope that he gets another shot," running back Jerick McKinnon said. "Great player, great mentor, and I'll still look up to him. I'll stay in touch. I'm praying for him, hoping for the best."
The Vikings have six games left and host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
"We can't have a dark cloud over our facility or over our team," quarterback Teddy Bridgewater said, adding: "We would love to have him, but it's out of our hands."
Coach Mike Zimmer addressed the Peterson situation with the players Wednesday morning.
"I support him and his family and he's been great with me, but other than that ... we've got to move forward. It's just the way life is," Zimmer said.
Regardless of their feelings about boundaries of parental discipline and punishment Peterson might have deserved for what was originally a felony charge, Vikings players were unanimous in their support for him and his return. Even rookies like Bridgewater and McKinnon raved about the effort Peterson put into being a leader and a mentor.
"There were times in training camp where I'd get down on myself because I may have had a bad practice or didn't like this throw or that throw, and he would always come up to me and tell me, 'Hey, you're not going to be perfect. You can't control what everyone's saying about you. You can't control every throw. You just have to trust yourself, play football and trust your God-given abilities,'" Bridgewater said. "Hearing that from Adrian, it just meant a lot."
The Vikings were also in lock-step disagreement with Goodell's decision. The NFL Players Association has accused the league of handling the process inconsistently and unfairly, believing Peterson has already been punished by being on the exempt list with pay for the last nine weeks. Goodell has sole discretion to put a player on or take him off the list, which has rarely been used.
"Once he got taken care of what he got taken care of in the games he's already missed, I feel like he should be back," fullback Jerome Felton said.
Peterson's salary for the season was $11.75 million. He will keep the money accrued while on the exempt list. 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.
NOTES: McKinnon missed practice Wednesday with a lower-back injury, and so did running back Matt Asiata with a concussion. With Joe Banyard the only other ball carrier on the active roster, the Vikings claimed running back Ben Tate off waivers from Cleveland. Tate was overtaken for playing time by rookies Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West after signing as a free agent with the Browns to be their featured back. He sprained his right knee in season opener and missed two games, but returned after the bye week with a bang, rushing for a career-high 124 yards.
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