MINNEAPOLIS - Having just left the Georgia pro day, Minnesota Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman was sitting in the Atlanta airport last Wednesday awaiting a flight back to Minneapolis when his phone rang.
It was Joel Segal, the agent for Patrick Peterson. The veteran defensive back who just finished his 10th season with the Arizona Cardinals was looking for a new home. Spielman had to get in touch with his front office to make the money work. By the time he landed back in Minneapolis last Wednesday, a one-year deal was in place to bring Peterson to the Vikings.
"It’s amazing how things come together in free agency. We talked about Patrick during our free agency meetings, but didn’t think we’d have a legitimate shot. I think this thing came together in about two hours," Spielman told reporters on Monday. "It speaks for himself what he’s going to bring to us on the football field. He’s going to be a future hall of famer."
Peterson, drafted by the Cardinals No. 5 overall in 2011 out of LSU, started his career with eight straight Pro Bowl selections. He’s been selected All-Pro three times, including his rookie season, and had seven interceptions in his second year. He’s got 28 in 154 career games, all starts. He missed six games in the 2019 season, suspending for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
But as Spielman said, his on-field play speaks for itself. He was named to the All-Decade Team, and is one of the top defensive backs in the NFL. So why did he consider the Vikings? Two words: Mike Zimmer.
"Coach Zim himself stood out to me. His reputation speaks for itself, the things that he’s able to do with the defense," Peterson said Monday while sporting a purple suit. "The culture around here, the atmosphere around here was everything for me. It definitely checked off all the boxes."
Peterson noted Zimmer’s work with fellow defensive backs Deion Sanders, Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph and Terence Newman. All played for at least a dozen years, and Peterson says he wants to play for 16 seasons. He just finished his 10th.
Peterson comes to Minnesota after playing with Minneapolis native Larry Fitzgerald Jr. for 10 years in Arizona. He says Fitzgerald taught him how to be a professional. Now, Peterson comes to Minnesota to be a mentor for the likes of Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler and Mike Hughes.
He also joins a defense that already includes Harrison Smith, Danielle Hunter, Michael Pierce, Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks among the leaders. Peterson, who will turn 31 later this summer, signed a one-year deal to play defensive back after there had been some talk he might play safety.
"Rick and Coach Zim know that I have a lot left in the tank. They know that I can come help this team win football games and help get this thing back in the right direction," Peterson said. "We have a chance to do something pretty special."
Zimmer and the Vikings are coming off a 7-9 season and missing the NFC Playoffs for the fourth time in his tenure. Zimmer said after the season 2020 was one of the worst defenses he’s had. Depleted by injuries and relying on rookies in the secondary proved to be a combination that couldn’t be overcome.
Peterson is looking for a bounce-back season in 2021 after two interceptions and 53 tackles in 10 games in 2019. Last year, three interceptions and 61 tackles. The Vikings feel they’ve added a top free agent to their secondary that can help get them back to the playoffs.
"I know he has a lot to prove to a lot of people, he didn’t have anything to prove to us. We already know what type of football player he is," Spielman said.