U.S. District Judge David Doty heard arguments from NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler and NFL attorney Daniel Nash on Friday afternoon, in a courtroom where many of the NFL's pivotal labor battles have played out over the last 20 years.
On Friday, the union argued NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acted outside his authority in November, when he suspended Peterson until at least April 15 for disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch in May. Arbitrator Harold Henderson, a longtime NFL executive whom the union argued was biased in favor of the league, upheld Peterson's suspension Dec. 12.
Kessler argued Peterson should not be subject to the league's new personal conduct policy, which implemented stricter punishments for players in domestic violence cases, because that policy was not instituted until late August.
"The only people" who felt the new policy applied to Peterson, Kessler argued to Doty, "were commissioner Goodell and Mr. Henderson.
"The proper way to remand the award is, it should go back to Mr. Henderson, who should then carry out a new order with the effect of vacating discipline," Kessler said.
The union also argued that Goodell did not have the authority to mandate counseling for Peterson, as he did in his Nov. 18 letter to the running back, and that the league made unprecedented use of the commissioner's exempt list to keep Peterson off the field (albeit with pay) for 12 weeks before his suspension began.
Doty didn't provide a timetable for his decision.
Nash began his 30-minute argument by saying, "What was ignored in [Kessler's] argument is how we got here. There is no dispute [from the union] that Mr. Peterson engaged in conduct detrimental [to the NFL]."
And where the union cited Judge Barbara Jones' decision to overturn Goodell's indefinite suspension of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Nash said Jones found the commissioner has "sole discretion" to suspend players as he sees fit under Article 46 of the league's collective bargaining agreement. Goodell, Nash argued, could have imposed a longer suspension had he deemed it necessary.
The union cited NFL executive Troy Vincent's comments to Peterson that he believed a new personal conduct policy would not apply to the running back, and that Peterson would receive a maximum suspension of two games.
At one point, Doty asked Nash if the league's past practice of a two-game suspension for domestic violence applied to Peterson, referencing Vincent's comments and saying to Nash, "Do I have to believe what I hear from you, or my lying eyes?" Nash said it did not have weight as the "law of the shop," adding Vincent testified before Henderson that he did not make promises to Peterson and was not responsible for assessing discipline.
Peterson, who turns 30 next month, did not speak at the hourlong hearing. He emerged from the courthouse hand in hand with his wife, Ashley, several blocks from where his picture rings the construction site for the Vikings' new stadium. Wearing a navy blue suit and a purple tie, he briefly stopped to answer questions from reporters and sign autographs for fans waiting outside the courthouse. When he was asked if he wants to return to the Vikings next season, Peterson said, "Of course."
The running back is scheduled to earn a base salary of $12.75 million in 2015 and count $15.4 million against the Vikings' salary cap. Coach Mike Zimmerand general manager Rick Spielman have both indicated they want Peterson back, but they stopped short of saying it would happen.
Peterson would again be the league's highest-paid running back if he returned under his current contract, and in a December interview with ESPN, he said he didn't believe he should take a pay cut in 2015, adding he saw himself being a better player in 2015 after getting tackled just 21 times in 2014.
Peterson: 'Got Fair Hearing'
Adrian Peterson talks after his reinstatement hearing that was held Friday in Minneapolis.