Adrian Peterson was on a conference call this week when his phone flashed with a message from a friend.
It read simply: “Text 911.”
“It was kind of strange,” the All-Pro running back said. “I just kept looking at my phone, and the next text was, ‘You just got traded to Arizona.’ ”
For Peterson, who had become an afterthought in New Orleans, that was the most welcome piece of news this side of, “You’ve won Powerball!”
“I turn on the TV, and they’re breaking news,” he said. “It was like, ‘Thank you, Jesus.’ He answers prayers. That’s how I found out.”
That Peterson is 32 doesn’t worry the Cardinals as much as their 32nd ranking in rushing.
“He can run away from defenders. He can run through defenders. He runs violently. He runs behind his pads,” quarterback Carson Palmer told reporters. “He’s been a threat since his first day in the league.
“I think the big picture is that he’s a guy that can rip one off and run away from defensive backs, and he can run through defensive backs.”
The two-win Cardinals, who play host to Tampa Bay on Sunday, have been in serious need of help since losing star running back David Johnson to a dislocated wrist in a season-opening loss to Detroit.
By all indications, the Cardinals are hoping to use Peterson the way the Minnesota Vikings did for all those years when he assembled his Hall of Fame-worthy body of work. Since entering the NFL in 2007, Peterson leads the league in rushing yards (11,828), rushing touchdowns (97) and 100-yard rushing games (49).
But as we’ve seen time and again, playing running back in the NFL is a young man’s game, and the production of ball carriers often drops off shortly as they approach 30. Peterson is a notable exception, though, as he led the league in rushing at 30, and ran for more than 2,000 yards less than a year after suffering a torn ACL.
Yet again, he’s ready to disprove doubters.
“I’d love to play at least four to five more years,” he said. “I’ve got a lot left in the tank.”
It remains to be seen whether Peterson can make good on that and help the Cardinals establish the kind of running attack that would turn down the heat on Palmer. Promises don’t always equal production. In Oakland, for instance, the Raiders are having their own issues getting the kind of value they had hoped out of 31-year-old Marshawn Lynch.
This isn’t the first time the Cardinals have turned to a onetime superstar running back looking to squeeze a bit more out of his stellar career. In 2003, the team signed Dallas legend Emmitt Smith to provide leadership, sell tickets and help with the stadium campaign. Three years later, it was Indianapolis icon Edgerrin James, who helped kick off the era of the new stadium. The club wound up overpaying for both.
The thought now is that Peterson can help rescue a season that’s rapidly slipping away. The Cardinals’ offensive line has struggled but gets a boost Sunday with the return of left tackle D.J. Humphries and left guard Alex Boone. For his part, Peterson isn’t fazed by the reshuffling up front.
“It’s not my first rodeo,” he said. “I’ve been in situations where I didn’t have the best offensive line in front of me and was able to be productive and accomplish some great things as a team and individually as well.”
A decade ago, the Cardinals made the mistake of passing on Peterson in the draft with the fifth pick in favor of tackle Levi Brown, who never panned out. Peterson wound up going seventh to the Vikings.
“I’m sure if they could flash back, they would have probably done things differently,” said Peterson, one of the gems from a draft that started with the Raiders’ selection of quarterback JaMarcus Russell, one of the biggest busts in NFL history. “I’m sure Oakland would have done things differently too. But I’m here now. Things have come full circle.”
And the Cardinals are hoping it’s not too little, too late.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer