The Minnesota Vikings haven’t abandoned the notion of a featured running back, they just don’t want one paid significantly above his value.
That’s the issue at the heart of the Dalvin Cook saga, which continues trudging along toward June 1 and what is likely to be a trade or release scenario after that date. The other side to that coin is there are a handful of quality running backs available with whom the Vikings can replace Cook, after several other teams parted ways with their overpriced rushers.
One such player is former Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys designated Elliott as a post-June 1 release when free agency hit in March, saving the team $10.9 million against its 2023 salary cap. Elliott signed a six-year extension worth $90 million in Dallas in 2019 but won’t get nearly that kind of money on the open market this summer as he approaches the age of 28.
Cook, on the other hand, will count more than $14 million against the Vikings’ cap number in 2023 if they keep him employed on his current contract. Whatever price Minnesota might pay for Elliott would be considerably less. Ironically, Cook is a candidate to join the Cowboys should the Vikings release him, as he would likely be far more affordable in Dallas on a new deal than he is in Minnesota on his current contract.
Ezekiel Elliott Had Productive Season for Cowboys in 2022
Veteran running backs typically aren’t in high demand this time of year. Teams are often eager to see if an undrafted rookie can fill a backfield role before turning to a pricey free agent who may have declining skills.
Ezekiel Elliott being available post-draft was a bit … unexpected. While he may have lost some of his burst (3.8 yards per carry in 2022), he’s still a fantastic goal-line back (12 rushing touchdowns) who can handle a large workload (248 touches last season).
Elliott could make sense for the Minnesota Vikings, who appear to be on the verge of parting with star running back Dalvin Cook.
Ezekiel Elliott Offers Vikings Major Value at Right Price
Elliott started off his career with a bang in 2016, leading the NFL in rushing attempts (322) and rushing yards (1,631). He also earned Pro-Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors while finishing second in Offensive Rookie of the Year voting, third in MVP voting and fifth in Offensive Player of the Year voting, per Pro Football Reference.
The running back led the league in rushing yards per game in each of his first three seasons and topped the NFL in total carries (304) and rushing yards (1,434) a second time in 2018. It’s been three years since Elliott made a trip to the Pro Bowl, but he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing in 2021 and sniffed that mark in 2020 and 2022.
Minnesota’s interest in Elliott is going to boil down to numbers. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is not going to break the bank for a running back when it is clear he is trying to get younger and less expensive at the position.
That said, the Vikings still have a roster that can compete in the NFC North Division next season, even with all the turnover of quality veteran players. Elliott can help Minnesota win now, and the value is there if the price is right.