Peterson spent the past two years with Washington, leading the team in rushing over that time with 1,940 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has rushed for 14,216 yards, trailing Barry Sanders by 1,053 yards for fourth place on the NFL’s career list. Peterson ranks fourth with 111 rushing touchdowns.
He still wants to continue playing, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Washington, though, has a young roster it wants to grow. Peterson is 35 years old and considered a power runner. The team has four other running backs, all 27 years old or younger and all capable of helping in both the running and passing games.
Still, it was a surprising move considering Peterson had mostly worked all summer with the starters and they praised his power runs and leadership. But the coaches often mentioned versatility. It has become even more important at this position, given the lack of proven talent and depth at both the tight end and receiver positions. Washington wants an element of surprise to boost its offense.
The team wants to use a lot of two-running-back sets and wants the backs to be multithreats. It drafted Antonio Gibson in the third round; he had played mostly receiver at Memphis, but Washington will use him as a running back who can align all over in the passing game. The team signed veteran Peyton Barber and has been pleased with how he can contribute as both a runner and pass-catcher.
Washington signed third-down back J.D. McKissic in free agency and also has Bryce Love, a fourth-round pick in 2019 who is coming back from knee surgery late in his last year at Stanford. Love has been practicing all summer and one source said this week that they believe, in a couple of months, he can perhaps get back to where he was in college.
Those players allow Washington to use its backs in varied ways. Though Peterson could catch the ball — he caught 37 passes in two seasons with Washington — he was viewed as a runner first and foremost, albeit one with good power.
Two weeks ago, coach Ron Rivera said he could envision Peterson still running through arm tackle attempts. “He’s going to pick up four, five, six yards on second down,” Rivera said. “That’s what you want. That’s what he’s here for — to set the tone, set the tempo for our offense as a physical team.”
Peterson was not in high demand when Washington signed him in the summer of 2018 after a string of running back injuries in training camp — notably Derrius Guice’s torn ACL. Peterson had dealt with injuries and a trade the previous year, rushing for a combined 529 yards with New Orleans and Arizona in 10 games.
In Washington, Peterson emerged as the team’s top runner in 2018 with 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns. Then-coach Jay Gruden made him a healthy inactive in the season opener last season. Gruden felt just having a power runner limited the offense. But Peterson was active the rest of the season and finished with 898 yards for a 3-13 team.
The other running backs often praised Peterson for being what they considered an approachable legend. He was willing to share knowledge with the younger backs.
After spending 10 seasons in Minnesota, Peterson recently called Washington his “second home.” He said he liked how fans embraced him.
“God willing, it’ll be five more years,” he said.