The Minnesota Vikings appear poised to part way with star running back Dalvin Cook.
Sources are saying that the team will make one more attempt to trade the 28-year-old running back on Thursday before cutting him outright. It is an unexpected end to a career in Minnesota that was marred by injury but highlighted by flashes of greatness.
In his six years with the team, Cook only started every game one year, that is, 2022. Perhaps sensing that his time with the team was nearing an end and he wanted to show his durability issues were behind him, Cook played through many of the nagging injuries that shelved him in the past.
Cook tore his ACL early in his rookie season, but despite bouncing back from that, still missed games in every season until last year. To his credit, in 2022, he separated his shoulder in week 3 but put it in a harness and didn’t miss a game the rest of the season.
June 1st is a significant date for NFL teams. If a team releases a player before June 1, then they are responsible for the player’s salary cap hit, otherwise known as “dead money’ in the upcoming season. A post-June 1st release means the team can spread the cap hit over two seasons.
According to ESPN, the team would owe Cook $2 million for a post-June 1st release but would save $9 million in cap space while absorbing $5.1 million in dead money on their 2023 cap. It is a buy now, pay later situation for NFL teams to remain under the league’s salary cap, and after giving his backup, Alexander Mattison, a huge off-season raise, Cook saw the writing on the wall.
It’s not as if Cook hasn’t been productive and, at times, dominant. He has posted four consecutive years of 1,000 yards rushing. He was a touchdown machine in 2019 and 2020, posting 29 combined touchdowns, and has improved as a receiver every year since his rookie season.
What most contributed to Cook’s impending departure, besides the salary and his age, were his declining efficiency numbers. The advanced analytics showed a player on the decline, despite the flashes on the field. He led the league with 62 carries that went for a loss or no gain, and 34.5% of his carries gained a positive total of yards over expectation.
To the average fan, those numbers are meaningless. They see what is on the field. When Cook rips off long runs like he did several times in 2022, fans think he looks good, which at the time, he does. However, factoring in the number of times that he touched the ball with a negative impact, the numbers simply show he is close to done as an every-week bell cow back.
There will certainly be suitors for Cook when he is inevitably released. A trade is unlikely because the receiving team will be on the hook for the balance of Cooks’ contract in 2023. After a release, teams are free to negotiate with Cook’s agent, saving prospective teams millions in salary.
Denver and Miami have already been linked to Dalvin Cook, but he will likely need to be satisfied with a one-year prove-it deal at market value. Considering his age, he is likely looking at a $5 million maximum with incentives for playing time, touchdowns, etc.
It’s a shocking departure for a Viking team that has been shedding salary cap and may look very different from the Viking teams of the last few years.
For Cook, a change of scenery and the motivation to land that final contract could significantly benefit any franchise needing a one-year rental. We shall see.
Feature image screen grab from embedded YouTube video
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