Vikings Star Unwilling to Take Pay Cut, Open to Trade, Insider Says

Kevin O'Connell, Vikings

Getty Head coach Kevin O'Connell of the Minnesota Vikings.

The Minnesota Vikings have a month to get under the salary cap — and to get there they must have some hard conversations.

One of the sticking points this offseason is what to do with four-time Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, who regressed in efficiency this season but also flashed his familiar big-play ability and played every game this season for the first time in his career.

Cook carries the highest cap hit in his career as a Viking this upcoming season — a $14.1 million bill that Minnesota may not be willing to front. However, Cook also is unwilling to concede by taking a pay cut, KSTP’s Darren Wolfson revealed on the SKOR North podcast.

“Right now, as we sit here on February 7, Dalvin is not inclined to take a pay cut,” Wolfson said. “My sense is, right now, Dalvin has told some people close to him that ‘Hey, there’s no reason for me to take a pay cut.’ If the Vikings want to, there can be a trade market out there.”

Wolfson added that there are plenty of teams that need running back that could be a trade partners, including the Chicago Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Former NFL agent Joel Corry of CBS Sports suggested earlier this offseason that the Vikings could field a third-round pick for Cook — an offer Wolfson said Minnesota wouldn’t second guess.

“I would be shocked if the Vikings could get a third for Dalvin Cook,” Wolfson said on January 24. “If they can get a third for Dalvin Cook, done deal. They will make that move. They will take the dead money cap hit but also get some cap relief.”

 Vikings Showing Signs of Wanting to Keep Dalvin Cook

Dalvin Cook, Vikings

GettyRB Dalvin Cook of the Minnesota Vikings carries the ball during a game against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on January 8, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

Although Cook has shown signs of regression, the Vikings made a gesture during his exit interview that shows parting ways with him could be much easier said than done.

“In the exit interview with Dalvin, I’m led to believe they told him, ‘Hey, this wasn’t necessarily our plan to pass the ball as much as we did. There was some lost opportunities to get you the ball.”

Wolfson added that general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah was touting that the Vikings would run the ball a decent amount. That plan didn’t materialize accordingly. The Vikings averaged 42.9 dropbacks per game, the most for a Minnesota team since at least 2000, and their average of 23.7 rushes per game was the third-lowest over the same span, per ESPN.

Kevin O’Connell was also enamored with Cook, whom he deployed for a career-high 813 snaps, 68% more than his average over the past five seasons, according to ESPN. In turn, Alexander Mattison, who is a pending free agent, saw a career-low 89 touches last season.

Cook dominating usage in the running back room is a product of his ability as a true dual threat in the backfield. No other Vikings running back last season possesses the ability to be a three-down bell cow and a threat as a receiver. In an offense that’s predicated on giving the “illusion of complexity,” a dual-threat back is vital to keeping defenses guessing.

But whether it’s worth Cook’s 2023 cap hit remains to be seen.

Dalvin Cook’s Effectiveness Fell Off a Cliff, But He’s Still Valuable

The Vikings are currently $23.4 million over the salary cap and must create enough space to reload their defense and sign their upcoming rookie class. That will require some serious trimming of the roster’s veteran talent.

Cook carries the sixth-highest cap hit among running backs next season with $14.1 million on the books for next season when he’ll be 28. Cook was sixth in rushing yards last season with 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.

However, Cook led the NFL with 62 rushes of zero or negative yards, nearly a quarter of his total carries, per ESPN. According to Pro Football Focus, Cook left plenty of meat on the bone, gaining 200 yards fewer than an average running back in the league on his opportunities — the most of any starting running back.

Over The Cap valued Cook at $8.5 million for his 2022 performance, a significant gap from his $14.1 million cap hit for next season.

The Vikings are currently sixth in running back spending with $16.1 million on the books for next season. Cook is well-liked by both the front office and coaching staff, but if they cannot find a way to integrate the running game more, it may not be worth spending like the league’s most run-heavy teams.

Meanwhile, the Vikings don’t have a proven replacement with Mattison reaching free agency and backups Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler failing to earn significant roles this season.

Cook showed he can still break off a big play that warrants him being well-paid at his position, however, his inefficiency this season has been hard to decipher with the struggles on the offensive front.

That’s the puzzle the front office will have to solve in the next month.

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