The Minnesota Vikings have been noncommittal to star running back Dalvin Cook this offseason — and the rest of the NFL has taken notice.
A week before the opening of free agency, KSTP’s Darren Wolfson reported the Vikings received a trade offer for Cook. The Miami Herald’s Barry Jackson supported Wolfson’s report, confirming that the Miami Dolphins made an “inquiry” about the four-time Pro Bowl running back in a March 30 article.
The Dolphins went on to re-sign their entire running back room for just $8 million, however, that doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a move.
Cook’s been on the chopping block due to an inflated 2023 cap hit. His camp has since floated the notion to local media that he’s unwilling to take a pay cut. His agent’s bad-mouthing of the Vikings earlier this offseason also signals a fray in the two sides’ business dealings.
Vikings Insider Says it’s ‘Impossible’ to See Dalvin Cook on 2023 Roster; Move Likely to Come Post-June 1
Any move on Cook, who is reaching the peak earnings of his five-year, $63 million contract extension he signed in 2020, is unlikely to come before June 1.
Cook underwent a shoulder operation in February that effectively put the Vikings on the hook for $2 million more of guaranteed money for his 2023 earnings. A pre-June 1 trade of release would result in nearly $8 million in dead cap compared to $3 million after June 1.
However, considering Cook’s $14.1 million cap hit this season, the Vikings’ offseason moves at running back indicate they’re unlikely to keep him at that price for the 2023 season. Minnesota re-signed Alexander Mattison and C.J. Ham to two-year contract extensions and have the second-most cash sunk ($19.96 million) into the running back position this year, trailing only the San Francisco 49ers‘ backfield that pairs Christian McCaffrey and Kyle Juszcyzk ($19.99 million)
General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah, an analytics-driven executive, understands the dilemma of paying an aging running back like Cook top dollar, especially after Cook surpassed the 1,500-touch threshold last season.
Adofo-Mensah has shown he’s willing to part ways with some of the teams’ aging veterans as a means to forging a new future for the franchise this offseason with the releases of Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen. He addressed Cook’s future specifically in his end-of-season press conference in January.
“Asked about Cook and a number of other veterans whose age and contracts make them vulnerable, Adofo-Mensah said: ‘It’s this complex equation we’re always trying to solve.’ He said the team knows that Cook and others ‘are great football players, great people [and] core foundational elements of our culture.’ But after making clear that quarterback Kirk Cousins would return as a 2023 starter, he made no such commitment to Cook and the others,’ ” ESPN’s Kevin Seifert wrote in a January 26 article.
Taking into account the Vikings’ finances after the salad days of free agency last month, Seifert sees it “impossible” for Cook to stay in Minnesota at his current price.
“The Vikings haven’t yet offered a public explanation of why they re-signed Mattison with Cook still on the roster, and that’s not an accident. Based on everything that we’ve seen, and what has gone unsaid, it’s almost impossible to believe that Cook will remain on the roster at his current numbers. He’ll either accept a significant pay cut, get traded or be released,” Seifert wrote in a March 31 article.
Vikings Looking to Restore Running Game With Blockers, Not Backs
When Adofo-Mensah arrived at the 2022 scouting combine just weeks after being hired, he touted that the Vikings would be a dominant running team, according to Wolfson.
That didn’t pan out. Minnesota ranked 28th in rushing attempts and 27th in yards, partially due to the team trailing late in games and failing to put themselves in a position to chew up the clock.
On top of the re-signing of Mattison and Ham, the Vikings fortified their run game by re-signing center Garrett Bradbury, a competent run-blocker through his career, and former Baltimore Ravens tight end Josh Oliver. Oliver is considered one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the league, earning himself a three-year, $21 million deal with the Vikings.
This offseason signals that the Vikings have made improving their run game the next highest priority after the defense, however, the investment away from Cook in future years is a sign Minnesota is preparing to move on from Cook.