Dalvin Cook’s Replacement Breaks Silence on Star’s Future With Vikings

Alexander Mattison and Dalvin Cook

Getty Alexander Mattison addressed Dalvin Cook's absence at organized team activities amid a contract dispute between the team and the star running back.

With Dalvin Cook nowhere to be seen as the Minnesota Vikings begin organized team activities (OTAs) this week, Alexander Mattison has assumed his friend’s longtime role in Minnesota.

Mattison took the No. 1 running back reps at practice this week as Cook remains in a contract dispute with the Vikings and is absent from OTAs. He admitted not having Cook around is strange, but he is familiar with the business of the NFL brings.

“We’ve been in the backfield together for four years, so, of course, I’m used to that,” Mattison said in a May 24 media conference. “It’s part of the process. Some guys still aren’t here. Those guys will be joining us soon.”

Those guys include veteran safety Harrison Smith and linebacker Jordan Hicks, who were also absent from OTAs but restructured their contracts in the offseason to stay in Minnesota.

However, players like edge rusher Danielle Hunter and Cook, who have not resolved their contract dispute with the Vikings yet this offseason are more eyebrow-raising absences as the offseason program continues.

Justin Jefferson also didn’t attend OTAs on May 23, however, the Vikings have shown every intention to secure him long-term — likely with some of the cap space that could be available if Cook is traded or released.

Alexander Mattison, Dalvin Cook’s Bond Put to the Test by the Business of the NFL

The duo of Mattison and Cook has been inseparable at TCO Performance Center throughout their four years together and once garnered recognition as the NFL’s top running back tandem in 2020.

Likening each other to brothers, Mattison and Cook’s similar running style and hairstyle has left their offensive line unable to recognize which back just ran the ball at times.

“The O-line will turn around and they’ll ask, ‘Wait, were you in or was Dalvin in?’,” Mattison said in 2022. “So, that’s really good for us to be able to not miss a beat and continue just operate as a whole the way that we continued to prepare to do.”

That mistake has been made by many broadcasters over the past four years as Mattison has proven to be a reliable and seamless fill-in for Cook. In six career starts, Mattison has averaged 115.5 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns. He surpassed 100 rushing yards in two of those games and posted over 90 rushing yards in four of his six starts.

Mattison garnered plenty of trade interest approaching the 2022 trade deadline. It was expected that Mattison would walk and find a starting job in free agency in the spring, However, the Vikings front office secured Mattison to a two-year, $7 million contract that is nearly fully guaranteed — a sign that Cook could be expendable if he does not take a pay cut.

Mattison did not address the exact decision to stay in Minnesota and if he hopes to see a larger workload as the lead back. He tipped his hat to the organization being the main reason to stay.

“There was a lot that played into it,” Mattison said. “The biggest thing was loving it here. … I always told people I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else. It’s an unbelievable organization.”

For the moment, it appears Mattison will be the star of the Vikings backfield unless Cook agrees to the pay cut. Mattison is focused on improving the team’s running game that finished 26th in rushing yards per attempt (4.1) a season ago.

“Just excited to continue to grow with the team and continue to do the work,” Mattison said. “It’s an amazing feeling to be out here with my brothers.”

Vikings Should Finalize Decision With Dalvin Cook After June 1

The decision to sign Mattison was never just one to retain a solid player on the roster. It came with the assumption that Minnesota was looking to move on from Cook, who at the age of 28 saw his efficiency running the ball plummet.

An analytics general manager like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is likely trying to move off of Cook’s backloaded contract he signed in his prime back in 2020 with the past regime. Cook’s cap hit of $14.1 million is the bulk of the Vikings’ $21.3 million sunk at running back and full back — the third-highest cap hit at the position group for a team that ranked 27th in rushing attempts last season.

Minnesota tried to move off Cook approaching the opening of free agency but couldn’t find a suitable trade partner. Their only publicly confirmed trade partner in the Miami Dolphins fizzled out in March, and the Dolphins have since re-signed their four running backs to the tune of $12.3 million and drafted De’Von Achane in the third round.

Many teams are waiting to see if the Vikings will cut Cook on June 1, when they could save $9 million in cap space, for the chance to land the four-time Pro Bowler without having to give up draft capital.

However, if Cook remains rostered with his contract intact after the turn of the calendar, he’s likely to show up for mandatory minicamp on June 12.