After six seasons in Minnesota, star running back Dalvin Cook is leaving the Vikings. It's not for a lack of production -- the Pro Bowler has topped 1,100 rushing yards in four straight seasons -- but rather a steep price tag, with the team saving at least $9 million in 2023 by parting ways with the fan favorite. Now, the question is, are the Vikings right to move on?
Here's an instant overview of the pros and cons of cutting ties with Cook, as well as our verdict on the decision:
Pros of cutting Cook
This is 2023. While Cook is undeniably one of the NFL's most explosive pure runners, he's also going on 28, with almost 1,300 carries of wear and tear at one of the most replaceable positions in the game. Not only that, but his 2020 contract extension would've made him the third-highest-paid among all RBs going into this year, due more than $14 million annually through 2025.
Is Cook of equal or greater value to similarly paid RBs like Nick Chubb, Joe Mixon and Aaron Jones? Sure. But that doesn't mean any of those players should necessarily command top dollar from forward-thinking teams. Consider, just as an example, how little the reigning NFC champion Eagles -- one of the NFL's top rushing teams -- commit to the position, paying a combined $3M for veterans D'Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny going into 2023.
Even the most ardent Cook fan also has to reckon with the reality of the Vikings' trajectory. Minnesota has spent much of this offseason shedding, not adding, proven playmakers, saying farewell to vets like Adam Thielen, Eric Kendricks and Za'Darius Smith, while refusing to commit to quarterback Kirk Cousins beyond this season. General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has his eye on a longer-term restocking, perhaps with young pass catchers Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson as the building blocks. It's just not realistic to think Cook will still warrant top-five pay by the time this team is primed for a true title bid.
Then there's the on-field nitpicks. It'll take a lot for backup Alexander Mattison to replicate Cook's sheer dynamism. But it's not as if Cook has been a world-beating all-purpose back in today's NFL; he's eclipsed 400 receiving yards just once in six years. Availability has also been a question; 2022 was the first time in his six-year career he didn't miss multiple games due to injury.
Cons of cutting Cook
For one, the Vikings offense is almost certain to be less explosive without him. Whatever his faults, Cook has consistently been one of the league's fastest and most fluid ball-carriers when healthy. Mattison, his successor, has been just fine in limited work over four seasons, but he's also averaged fewer than 4 yards per carry in back-to-back years, proving to be more of a straightforward, tough-yardage back. Opposing teams simply will not fear the backfield as much as they once did, enabling them to redirect more focus on Cousins, Jefferson and the aerial attack.
Speaking of Cousins and Co., Cook's exit further entrenches the remaining offensive pillars -- the QB, WR1 and TE1 in Hockenson -- in a sort of purgatory. Are the Vikings truly intending to compete in 2023, or not? A year after surprisingly cruising to an NFC North title at 13-4, they clearly have the foundations of a higher-octane attack. But removing Cook from the equation, even if it means paying big bucks to lock up Jefferson and Hockenson, really just pushes more focus on restocking/rebuilding in 2024.
There's also the unlikely scenario in which the Vikings prove just as good, if not better, than they were in 2022. Let's say Cousins goes off in a contract year, Jefferson shines as usual, and Brian Flores' new defensive oversight helps carry Minnesota to another playoff run. If, in that scenario, RB proves to be the one glaring weakness for this team -- perhaps if Mattison is just serviceable, but not special -- then perhaps Adofo-Mensah and Co. will be wishing they'd retained such a star athlete for an improbable title hunt.
Building a championship football team is hard work. And oftentimes, it takes hard decisions. Let's revisit, quickly, the last two Super Bowl teams: The Eagles just made their second title bid in six years, but they all but gutted their key positions, including QB and WR, as a means of returning to the big game; while the Chiefs just won their second Lombardi in four years after trading arguably their most electric weapon (Tyreek Hill) in order to spread out their resources.
Smarts over sentimentality. That's the key. It's a hard pill to swallow, especially at premium spots like QB, where even a serviceable starter often commands lucrative commitments for the mere ability to keep a club in wild card contention. But at RB, where it's easier than ever to unearth quality production, so long as the right O-line is in place? It's not as much of a head-scratcher.
Cook may have been a fun player for Vikings fans to call their own. And he may still have juice in the tank. But if Adofo-Mensah is truly committed to the hard work -- of getting Minnesota out of just-good-enough territory -- then parting with Cook to spread resources elsewhere registers as the right decision.