Adrian Peterson's appeal was stopped for no gain, when the NFL's unpaid suspension of the star running back was stayed until next spring.
Peterson won't be considered for reinstatement before April 15, and by then he might not be with the Minnesota Vikings anymore. He'll likely be the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the league, though.
Harold Henderson, the league-appointed arbitrator who heard Peterson's appeal, released Friday his decision affirming the Nov. 18 punishment levied by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for the child-abuse case that kept Peterson out of all but one game this season. He'd been on paid leave, even during the appeal, but Henderson's ruling translated to a fine of more than $4.1 million. That's the six-game portion of his salary this year.
The NFL Players Association argued that Peterson's time on the exempt list, at Goodell's sole discretion, should have counted as time served toward a suspension. That's one of the many grievances the union will likely raise in court. The rift between the league and the NFLPA over the fairness of the disciplinary process has widened this season while the cases of Peterson and former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice played out.
According to a person with direct knowledge of the situation, a complaint will be filed against the NFL on Peterson's behalf in federal court in Minnesota as early as Monday. The person spoke Friday to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the lawsuit had not yet been finalized.
Nothing is final about Peterson's status with the Vikings, either, and coaches and players have said often this year they'd welcome him back. But in an interview Friday with ESPN.com, Peterson said he's been so frustrated by this process with the NFL that he's considered retiring. Focusing on real estate instead and even trying out as an Olympic sprinter in the 200-meter and 400-meter dashes have entered his mind as options, he said.
"You only live once. It might be time for me to pursue that," Peterson told ESPN.com.
In an ironic twist, Peterson probably wouldn't have been punished as much had the public backlash to the initial leniency for Rice not been so severe. Now Rice is reinstated and Peterson remains suspended, though Rice doesn't have a team.
Peterson could find himself a free agent next spring, too. The combination of his age and his contract was already going to make the Vikings think hard about his status, before the heat the organization took for initially announcing he'd continue to play while he went through his due process in court.
The six-time Pro Bowl pick, three-time AP All-Pro and two-time NFL rushing leader has a contract that runs through 2017, with a salary for 2015 at $12.75 million. That's not guaranteed like the other major sports, though, and the Vikings could release him before next season and owe him nothing, taking only a $2.4 million hit on their salary cap.
Henderson's announcement was a decisive victory for Goodell, whose indefinite suspension of Rice was overruled last month by a different arbitrator. Rice was caught on camera punching the woman who's now his wife but was initially given only a two-game ban. The video went viral, and Goodell toughened the punishment.
The union's grievance for Peterson was similar, arguing essentially that Goodell was making up protocol for discipline as he went along. But Henderson forcefully wrote that he saw no bounds being overstepped by the league boss.
Goodell announced in August a stiffer penalty for players involved with domestic violence. The union argued that Peterson, who was charged with felony child abuse in September for use a wooden switch to discipline his 4-year-old son in May, should be subject to the prior guidelines. Henderson said that argument didn't matter.
"The Commissioner has broad discretion to impose appropriate discipline for violations of the personal conduct policy, and his recent pronouncements simply reflect his current thinking on domestic violence and other incidents involving physical force," Henderson wrote.
The NFLPA called Henderson's objectivity into question.
"The decision itself ignores the facts, the evidence and the collective bargaining agreement," the union said in a statement. "This decision also represents the NFL's repeated failure to adhere to due process and confirms its inconsistent treatment of players."
The Vikings initially announced Peterson would stay on the active roster after the first game he missed following the indictment, but they reversed course less than two days later following intense public pressure and placed him on the exempt list at Goodell's approval. That's like paid leave, which the union argued counted as discipline and therefore contributed to an overreaching punishment. Henderson dismissed that argument, too.
Peterson pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault in Texas Nov. 4 for probation time, community service and a small fine. He acknowledged physically disciplining the boy as he had been as a youth, but he said he meant no harm and was sorry for the trouble he caused.
"I love my son more than any of you can imagine," he said outside the courthouse that day.
Still, Henderson sided with Goodell in his written reprimand of Peterson's purported lack of remorse.
"While the discipline assessed is indeed greater than in most prior cases, this is arguably one of the most egregious cases of domestic violence in this Commissioner's tenure — the severe beating of a 4-year old child, with a tree branch, striking him repeatedly about the body and inflicting injuries visible days later," Henderson said.
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