Minnesota stands to save $9 million by cutting Cook or $11 million, plus at least one asset, by trading him. Whatever the cap relief adds up to, general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is unlikely to spend much of it on another back to pair alongside presumed 2023 starter Alexander Mattison. But adding another rusher of some sort on a reasonable contract is feasible, and there is at least one free agent option with an impressive resumé who the Vikings might be able to land without breaking the bank.
Kareem Hunt, most recently of the Cleveland Browns, is only 27 years old and won the NFL rushing title with the Kansas City Chiefs as a rookie Pro-Bowler back in 2017. Cleveland is already paying Nick Chubb north of $12 million per season, which is a huge number for a running back these days but just a middling figure on the Browns’ bloated balance sheet. Translation: Hunt isn’t heading back to Ohio this summer unless he somehow becomes a member of the Cincinnati Bengals.
But Hunt is in need of a home and he does have a dual-threat skill set that makes plenty of sense alongside Mattison if the Vikings can land him at a reasonable price.
Kareem Hunt Can Re-establish Value With Vikings on 1-Year Deal
Given Hunt’s talent and history of early-career success, pushing his number low enough to get into Minnesota’s desired range could be tricky. But aging players at a devalued positions can often be convinced to take a one-year discount to join a situation that will allow them to showcase their skills, re-establish their value and potentially earn a shot at another sizable, long-term contract. This is the type of scenario in which the Vikings land a player like Hunt.
Alex Kay of Bleacher Report on Tuesday, June 6, listed Hunt among the remaining free agents with the most upside ahead of the 2023 campaign.
While he never reached the levels of production he experienced as a Chief, Hunt was a solid contributor for much of his tenure in Cleveland. … The Toledo product is coming off his worst healthy season as a professional, though, one in which he demanded a trade but ultimately received no real interest in his services. According to Terry Pluto of Cleveland.com, the Browns front office thinks his speed has slipped and isn’t interested in having him return.
Despite Cleveland’s beliefs, the 27-year-old may still have enough tread left on his tires to serve as a viable pass-catching and backup running back at this stage in his career. He’ll likely get one more shot to prove himself on his next contract and could surprise his doubters with a bounce-back year.
Hunt amassed 1,874 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns across 49 regular season appearances over his four-year stretch in Cleveland, averaging 4.24 yards per carry. He also caught 132 passes for 973 yards and seven scores as a member of the Browns, per Pro Football Reference.
The running back played out his two-year, $12 million contract with Cleveland in 2022. Spotrac projects Hunt’s market value at $7 million annually across a two-year deal. Mattison signed a two-year contract with the Vikings this offseason for a total of $7 million guaranteed.
Signs Point to Imminent Split Between Dalvin Cook, Vikings
Minnesota isn’t likely to pay Hunt more money per season than the Browns did in either of the previous two years. However, if the team can get him for about half of Spotrac’s projection on a one-year deal, aligning his salary with Mattison’s, it’s probably a swing worth taking — especially because it is fairly clear that the four-time Pro Bowler will not be wearing purple come September.
Kevin Seifert of ESPN reported on June 2 that Cook remains on the Vikings roster essentially in name only.
“In truth, the post-Dalvin Cook era has been taking shape for months at Minnesota Vikings headquarters,” Seifert wrote. “Adofo-Mensah has been speaking in neutral terms about Cook’s future since the combine in February. He has repeatedly declined to confirm that Cook will be on the Vikings’ 2023 roster.”
“All that remains is for the Vikings to formalize Cook’s exit, a denouement that seems likely if not completely certain,” Seifert continued.
Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated reported on June 5 that the Miami Dolphins “came very close” to dealing for Cook in March, though talks deteriorated based on compensation. Other contenders are also in the mix for running back, as the Vikings seek both draft picks and cash in return for one of the game’s best at the position.
The more Minnesota can get back in a deal for Cook, should the team actually execute a trade, the likelier it is that a player like Hunt ends up in play. But regardless of the outcome of any trade talks around Cook, the Vikings should keep Hunt squarely on their radar if they believe he can be had for one year at the approximate price of a few million dollars.