Washington releases Adrian Peterson, turns to young backs

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Washington running back Adrian Peterson (26) works out during practice at the team's NFL football training facility, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, in Ashburn, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Washington released veteran running back Adrian Peterson on Friday, a stunning move by first-year coach Ron Rivera in the name of getting younger.

Rivera called Peterson early in the morning asking him to come to the practice facility, then delivered the news the team was moving on from the 35-year-old star. The move came less than 36 hours before NFL rosters must be trimmed to the 53-man limit and nine days before the start of the regular season.

“It’s not about what he hasn’t done or anything like that, but it’s about what this group of backs has shown us, especially in the way that the offense has headed,” Rivera said. “Adrian is a true pro. I was fortunate to just be with him this summer.”

Peterson played the past two seasons with Washington, rushing for 1,940 yards and 12 touchdowns in the fourth stop of a career that will likely earn him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He originally signed in the summer of 2018 after rookie Derrius Guice was lost for the season with a knee injury, and kept his starting job in 2019.

Now, after Guice's release following a domestic violence arrest, he, Peterson and longtime third-down back Chris Thompson are all gone, and the backfield has a decidedly young look. Replacing them will be a committee approach between rookies Antonio Gibson and Bryce Love and free agent additions Peyton Barber and J.D. McKissic.

“We’re about to find out what our young players can do more so than anything else,” Rivera said. “One of the things we have to find out is where we are with those guys. This is also what this allows us to do, is play these young players and put them in a position where they’ll be on the field.”

Love is finally healthy after a knee injury ended his college career in December 2018. Gibson excited Washington by playing a hybrid running back/receiver role at Memphis, and Rivera compared his potential to Carolina's Christian McCaffrey.

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner said Gibson has done a good job in training camp but was vague about his role Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.