Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has been reinstated after U.S. District Court Judge David Doty ruled Thursday in the NFL Players Association's lawsuit against the NFL on Peterson's behalf.
It is the latest blow to the NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell, who has watched his rulings against Peterson and Ray Rice both overturned in recent months.
The league had suspended Peterson through at least April 15 for his involvement in a child abuse case. But Doty said in his 16-page ruling that arbitrator Harold Henderson "simply disregarded the law of the shop and in doing so failed to meet his duty under the [collective bargaining agreement]."
Said the NFLPA in a statement issued Thursday: "This 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. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game."
As a result of the ruling, the Vikings might now be forced to make a decision on Peterson sooner rather than later. They can release or try to restructure his contract now, and they also will be free to trade him once the league year begins March 10.
There also was uncertainty as to Peterson's future with the Vikings after his agent, Ben Dogra, had to be separated from Vikings vice president Rob Brzezinski during a heated exchange at the NFL scouting combine last week, sources told ESPN.
Doty heard arguments from NFLPA attorney Jeffrey Kessler and NFL attorney Daniel Nash on Feb. 6 in Minneapolis.
The union had argued that 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. Henderson, a longtime NFL executive who the union argued was biased in favor of the league, upheld Peterson's suspension Dec. 12.
Kessler argued that 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.
Peterson 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 Zimmer and 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. He added that he saw himself being a better player in 2015 after getting tackled just 21 times in 2014.
Ben Goessling of ESPN.com and The Associated Press contributed to this report.