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John DeShazier: New Orleans Saints don't need Adrian Peterson to be a hero

Former All-Pro running back will be asked to contribute to already potent offense

The question of what does running back Adrian Peterson have left in the tank will be answered in a New Orleans Saints uniform, and New Orleans is waging that he has enough juice to be a solid contributor to what has been one of the most potent offenses in NFL history.

A solid contributor. Not a savior.

Because the Saints, who have finished in the top six in total offense every season since 2006 – the year that Coach Sean Paytonwas hired and Drew Breesbecame the most significant free agent signing in franchise history – don't need another hero on offense. If nothing else, New Orleans has proven it can (and will) move the ball and score on offense as long as Payton and Brees are at the forefront of the collaboration.

But if Peterson, who agreed to terms on a two-year contract Tuesday, has a bit of a chip on his shoulder after 10 previous NFL seasons in Minnesota; if he still feels he has something to prove after running for 11,747 yards and 97 touchdowns on 2,418 carries; and if he's determined to show that last year's injury-abbreviated season (37 carries for 72 yards in three games) was in no way representative of the player he still can be, then New Orleans is a perfect fit.

"I think the role will be very clearly defined," Payton said. "It's a tough, long 16-week season. He's someone that certainly will be able to complement Mark(Ingram). Those guys are different in some ways and yet, we feel like we've added another quality player.

"It goes without saying, (Peterson is) a guy that eventually is going to be in the Hall of Fame, but we think that he's got more years in his career. We'll have a clear role."

Peterson is 32 years old, not the normal age for today's frontline NFL running back. But he won't have to be that in New Orleans, where he can have the luxury of a reduced role – and the correlating reduction of punishment – playing behind Ingram.

Ingram is coming off his best season, with career highs in rushing yards (1,043), touchdowns (10), yards per carry (5.1) and yards from scrimmage (1,362), while playing all 16 games (14 starts) for the second time in his six-year career. He had 205 of the Saints' 404 rushing attempts last year, and when Tim Hightower signed with San Francisco as a free agent – and took his 133 carries with him – that created a void at running back in New Orleans.

A healthy Peterson ably can fill it.

"I would say this, and this sounds a little cliché, but it's hard to just be the guy that's getting every handoff," Payton said. "And I think that not only in his case, but also in Mark's case. We were fortunate enough for a few years to have a guy like Tim Hightower, who as his career went on here, had more and more of a role, more carries.

"I'm not by any way saying that Adrian's role will be the same as Tim's, but I think it's important in our game to have a number at that position that can handle the length of the season."

That's no slight to Hightower. His two seasons on the roster, after missing three full NFL seasons due to knee injuries and rehabilitation from those injuries, were an inspiration to his teammates, who voted him the team's Ed Block Courage Award winner in 2016.

From long shot to make the roster, to eloquent spokesman and leader, Hightower probably was more than the Saints envisioned he would be when he was signed, and he also made a substantial contribution on the field (229 carries for 923 yards and eight touchdowns, and 34 catches for 329 yards and a touchdown in 24 games over two seasons).

But Peterson's resume, which includes an MVP award, four All-Pro selections and seven Pro Bowl selections, walks into a room and speaks for itself. He's a future Hall of Famer, and those yards, touchdowns and yards per carry (4.9), accumulated when he was Minnesota's primary – and sometimes, seemingly only – offensive threat are more than enough to qualify him for a role in the Saints' offense.

The obvious caveats are Peterson's health and age.

He missed 13 games last season after tearing the meniscus in his right knee, and in December 2011 he tore the ACL in his left knee. Too, his usage was limited in 2014, when he only played one game (21 carries, 75 yards) due to an NFL suspension after he was charged with child abuse. He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.

But he returned in 2012 to run for 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns on 348 carries, and after being reinstated in 2015, he ran for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns on 327 carries.

And the Saints haven't needed or required such a heavy workload from any running back in the Payton-Brees era – Deuce McAllister's244 carries in '06 are the most for a Saints back under Payton, and no Saints back has topped 300 since McAllister's 351 in '04. So, Peterson's age shouldn't be a factor so long as he still has the pop to carry out his duties when called upon.

And in Ingram, he'll find a teammate who also is fully capable of handling his role.

"I'm all about winning so if that's going to help us win, I'm all about winning, I'm all for it," Ingram said.

"It's nothing new. I've been sharing the ball with one or two, maybe even three guys since I got here. I figured we were going to draft somebody or get somebody in free agency. We still might (draft a running back). I figured that was going to happen, it's not surprising to me.

"I don't care who comes in, where I'm at, who I'm playing with, I'm always going to compete. I'm always going to do the best I can do. That's just me, that's how I'm built. I'm always competing, I'm not going to shy away from competition and that's just the bottom line."

The other bottom line is that the Saints added another contributor.

Not a savior, but a player they believe can help carry the load.

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