4 Summer Vikings Storylines around the Bend

Mill Links Danielle
Danielle Hunter

The Minnesota Vikings hope to stiff-arm regression in 2023, following an unforeseen 13-4 season under first-year head coach Kevin O’Connell.

Most pundits have the team on tap for eight or nine wins this season, so Minnesota already has an uphill climb to prove doubters wrong.

4 Summer Vikings Storylines around the Bend

And with free agency + the draft in the rearview, these are four summer storylines for the Vikings on the docket in June (ranked in no particular order).

1. A Dalvin Cook Trade, Release, or Paycut?

4 Summer Vikings
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Last weekend, Dalvin Cook’s trade price came into focus, courtesy of the Pioneer Press. Charley Walters wrote, “The Dalvin Cook trade, probably to his hometown Miami Dolphins, could occur anytime, even this summer. The best the Vikings can expect for Cook, who turns 28 just before the season, is a fifth-round draft pick.”

Minnesota could also be waiting to release Cook after June 1st, when the dead cap hit shrinks. If the Vikings release Cook before June 1st, the club would save $5.9 million with an $8.2 million cap penalty. After that date, it’s $9 million in savings with a $5.1 million cap penalty. For a trade, sending Cook elsewhere before June 1st would save $7.8 million and fetch a mid-to-late round draft pick, as mentioned by Waters. Offloading Cook after June 1st via trade would save $11 million with a $3.1 million penalty. 

Cook could also take a paycut, but that seems wildly unlikely for a running back on the backend of his one colossal contract.

The moral of the story — if not before June, the Cook situation will climax this summer, probably early on.

2. Danielle Hunter’s Annual Contract Saga

The 2022 Vikings, According to All National Power Rankings: Week 7
Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) pressures Miami Dolphins quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (5) during the third quarter of an NFL game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Oct. 16, 2022. © JIM RASSOL/THE PALM BEACH POST / USA TODAY NETWORK.

For four straight offseasons, the calendar hits early summer, and Vikings fans wonder about Danielle Hunter and his contract. Thankfully for everybody’s sake, the situation generally ends peacefully, with Hunter returning to the Vikings for the upcoming season.

But Hunter is only scheduled for $5 million in “new money” this year, meaning his request for a new contract holds more legitimacy than ever. Plus, Hunter was healthy for all 17 games in 2022 and proved he could transition adeptly to a 3-4 defense.

The Vikings defense, on the whole, stunk last year — especially in the playoffs — so getting rid of the defense’s best player feels like utter hijinks. Still, Hunter will need a contract extension, which should happen this summer.

3. A Za’Darius Smith Trade, Release, or Kumbaya?

Vikings Pro Bowler
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Over eight weeks ago, Za’Darius Smith tweeted, “I just want to say ‘Thank you!’ to Skol Nation for an amazing season & experience! Thank you to all of my Teammates, Coaches & the entire Minnesota Vikings Organization! ?.”

After that — radio silence. The Vikings did not release or trade Smith before, during, or immediately after the NFL draft. Something’s gotta give. He’ll either be released after June 1st, traded after June 1st, or erase the goodbye tweet and start anew with the Vikings for a second season.

If he returns, Minnesota will have one of the best, deepest, and most expensive EDGE rusher rooms in the NFL.

4. The Battle for CB2

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Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Just one Vikings cornerback has a guaranteed starting job in September — newcomer free agent Byron Murphy. The rest is a grand mystery.

Andrew Booth and Akayleb Evans should be classified as frontrunners to win the other outside cornerback job — but who will it be? It’s a budding summer mystery that won’t be solved until the very end of August or until the first tangible depth chart is released.

Meanwhile, Minnesota has dark horses scratching at the door of WR2 — veteran newcomer Joejuan Williams, rookie Mekhi Blackmon, or even Tay Gowan (who keeps insisting on social media that he’s really, really good).

The Vikings don’t have a CB2 of Murphy’s caliber to snatch a job at the moment, so monitoring the CB situation will be at the forefront of fans’ attention.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).

All statistics provided by Pro Football Reference / Stathead; all contractual information provided by OverTheCap.com.