A federal judge overturned the NFL's suspension of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, paving the way for reinstatement of the star who pleaded no contest in November to a felony charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child that stemmed from an incident last May.
U.S. District Judge David S. Doty on Thursday vacated arbitrator Harold Henderson's decision to uphold NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's suspension of Peterson.
Peterson was to be eligible for reinstatement on April 15, but only if he agreed to certain guidelines set forth by Goodell. Doty's ruling, however, did not necessarily end the matter and left open the possibility that the case could go back to arbitration once again.
Doty cited the NFL's collective bargaining agreement in his decision, although it is uncertain whether the NFL will agree to bring the case back before Henderson.
"The petition to vacate arbitration award is granted and the case is remanded for such further proceedings with this order as the CBA may permit," Doty wrote at the end of his 16-page decision.
The NFL shed little light on what might happen next.
"We are reviewing the decision," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. He declined to elaborate.
NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement that the decision "is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness. Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players' rights."
The NFLPA argued in the Peterson case that the NFL improperly applied a new personal conduct policy announced in August since Peterson's situation stemmed from an incident that occurred before the new policy was implemented.
Smith has pushed for the idea of neutral arbitration as a way to avoid such contentious situations between the league and players facing disciplinary measures. He suggested that such arbitration "is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game."
Peterson was indicted by a Montgomery County, Texas grand jury on Sept. 14 on a felony charge of reckless or negligent injury to a child, stemming from an incident in May when he beat his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch, or small tree branch. He pleaded no contest on Nov. 4 and agreed to a misdemeanor charge of reckless assault. Goodell then suspended Peterson, who had been on the Commissioner's Exempt List since early September, for the remainder of the season without pay.
The Vikings have indicated that they want Peterson back with the team once he is eligible to play again. However, reports have surfaced recently suggesting that Peterson is open to the idea of playing elsewhere because he isn't sure of the team's commitment to him.
"Adrian Peterson is under contract with us. He's a very unique football player," Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said at last week's Scouting Combine. "He made a mistake. He admitted a mistake. But there's no question, I don't think any - and I've said this before - I don't think any team in the NFL wouldn't want an Adrian Peterson-caliber running back on their football team."
The Cowboys and Colts have been mentioned as teams that could have interest in acquiring Peterson if the Vikings are willing to part ways with him.