Why Vikings, Patrick Peterson were a perfect match in free agency

Patrick Peterson is determined to squash the narrative that he's lost a step in his new career chapter in Minnesota. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS -- Hours after signing a one-year, $10 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings as a free agent, Patrick Peterson reflected on his 10-year career with the Arizona Cardinals and the people who molded him into of the top cornerbacks of the past decade.

He remembered 2011 when he was drafted fifth overall out of LSU and the NFL was in the midst of a 132-day lockout. Arriving in Phoenix to begin his career, a 21-year-old Peterson wasn't expecting to see Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, a five-time Pro Bowler and a first-team All-Pro, leading the welcoming committee by picking him up at the airport. Peterson and his now wife piled their bags into the back of Fitzgerald's Bentley and off the cornerback went in learning how to become one of the best.

The gesture is one he can't forget all these years later.

"I tell him all the time, I just thank him for helping me understand how to be a pro," Peterson said of Fitzgerald. "By him showing his characteristics and the man that he really is, that's one of the guys I wanted to follow. From that day on, just had a great big brother, a great mentor, a great teammate."

That leadership Peterson gleaned from the future Hall of Fame wide receiver is effectively why the Vikings signed the 30-year-old cornerback last week.

Mutual need brought these two parties together. Seeking stability among a crop of young cornerbacks in a secondary that lost safety Anthony Harris in free agency, the Vikings found a veteran presence to guide them.

Upon becoming a free agent for the first time entering his 11th NFL season, Peterson needed a new football home that would allow him to extend his career.

The fit, which was orchestrated in a two-hour span from the Delta Sky Lounge in Atlanta following Vikings general manager Rick Spielman's visit to Georgia's pro day on March 17, led both sides to believe they can achieve maximum benefit.

"There's no question what his qualifications are on the field, and I know how excited Coach Zim is and our defensive staff is to start working with him and the experience he's going to bring to our young group on the back end," Spielman said. "But I also know that he has a lot of football left and usually, when you bet on guys that have the pedigree that he has, you're going to get some outstanding football going forward."

Meeting the aspirations Peterson set of playing 16 seasons hinges on Mike Zimmer. The Vikings coach's pedigree in working with some of the most reputable names to have played cornerback was a deciding factor in Peterson choosing Minnesota.

"Just looking at a couple teams, I think Coach Zim himself stood out to me," Peterson said. "His reputation speaks for itself and the things that he's able to do with the defense, not only with the defense but with defensive backs, speaking of Deion Sanders, Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Johnathan Joseph, the list goes on. And he's able to help further those guys' careers.

"And if you look at all those guys' careers, those guys played 13-, 14-plus years, so Coach Zim definitely has something he's giving those guys to not only help prepare their career into new heights but also help their career be a longevity career as well. I just thought the culture around here, the atmosphere around here was everything for me. It definitely checked off all the boxes."

Peterson's second chapter begins with mentoring those at the position he's expecting to play in 2021. Despite entertaining the idea of moving to safety on his "All Things Covered" podcast, Peterson believes he will remain at cornerback in Minnesota.

"I believe the plan is me playing cornerback, and I believe like Rick alluded to I know that I have a lot left in the tank," Peterson said. "I feel that I still have a good position as far as being in position to make plays at the cornerback position so I know I can still play at a high level. So my position will be cornerback for sure."

Mentioning his minimal injury history and the "unbelievable" shape his body is in, he suggested that some of the best years of his career are still on the horizon. That doesn't erase how substandard the past two seasons were for Peterson, who admitted they didn't go as planned.

The eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time All-Pro and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-2010s team saw a decline in his play beginning in 2019. He missed the first six games of the season due to a suspension for violating the league's performance-enhancing drug policy. When he returned for the final 10 games, it was the first time Peterson ever allowed an opponent passer rating over 100.

Last season, Peterson led all defensive backs with 10 penalties and allowed 50 catches on 75 targets for 677 yards (including 206 yards after the catch), five touchdowns, three interceptions, and an opponent passer rating of 100.8.

Peterson is determined to squash the narrative that he's lost a step with his new beginning. He was still one of the top cornerbacks available on the free agent market -- one Minnesota believes can turn around its pass defense deficiencies.

The chance to prove he still has the edge led Peterson to choose the Vikings. Uncovering what's left of his football potential is the next step.

"I knew I would be playing for a football team, just didn't know who," Peterson said. "And at the end of the day, I control what I can control and what I had to control was the film that I put on tape last year; hopefully it was good enough for someone thinking I could come in and help their team win ballgames.

"Rick and Coach Zim know that I have a lot left in the tank, they know that I can come help this team win ballgames and help get this thing back in the right direction."