Minnesota wants to clear salary cap space with Cook’s five-year, $63 million deal and turn to third-year back Alexander Mattison. Cook will command a big salary on the open market based on his $11 million salary for this year, but the Bucs front office could find a way despite $1.6 million in salary cap space.
The Bucs turned to voidable years during the Tom Brady era, and the creativity continued this year amid severe salary cap issues. Cornerback Jamel Dean recently re-signed to a four-year deal where he will get $1.08 million the first year but $12 million-plus the following three years.
The Bucs defense ranked No. 13 in points allowed last season with Barret out for nine games due to an ACL tear. Tampa Bay did far worse in the running game — last in all major categories — with Leonard Fournette and Rachaad White.
Rachaad White Can’t Match Dalvin Cook’s Resume Yet
Fournette got cut and White stayed on as the potential No. 1 running back this offseason. However, White only produced 481 yards rushing and 290 yards receiving amid three total touchdowns.
Cook, 27, is in his prime amid a strong start to his career amid four-consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He has 47 career touchdowns and no fewer than six in a season since 2019.
Tampa Bay instantly gets a proven star in the backfield of an offense that needs to redefine itself in 2023. Bucs quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask have delivered mixed results in organized team activities amid the monumental task of coming after Brady.
Bucs Fans, Former QB Wanted Dalvin Cook in 2017 Draft
Bucs fans once hoped for Cook, a former Florida State star and Miami native, to land with the team as a draft pick in 2017. Cook’s off-field issues from middle school onward affected his draft stock, according to Rick Stroud of the Tampa Bay Times.
Then-Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston even “openly lobbied” for Cook, Stroud wrote. Winston and Cook played together at FSU in 2014.
“But the Bucs believed the geography wouldn’t work for Cook,” Stroud wrote. “Even if they bought into the player, the fear was that too many of his friends from Miami would follow him to Tampa Bay.”
Instead of the Bucs taking a chance on Cook, he slid past the No. 19 pick into the second round where the Vikings took him at No. 41. The Bucs chose tight end O.J. Howard instead at No. 19, and he came short of big expectations in five seasons with the team.
If the Bucs don’t go after Cook aggressively this time around, he could leave the NFC and join either the Buffalo Bills or Miami Dolphins in the AFC East. Cook has those two teams in mind as his top choices, according to FOX’s Armando Salguero.