Austin Ekeler Could Muddy Vikings Plans

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Los Angeles Chargers phenom tailback Austin Ekeler stole early headlines on the first day of NFL free agency, and he could impact the Vikings, believe it or not.

Ekeler is the league’s leader in touchdowns — by a mile — in the last two seasons and reportedly wants out of Los Angeles.

Austin Ekeler Could Muddy Vikings Plans

ESPN tweeted, “Austin Ekeler is requesting permission to speak with other teams about a potential trade after preliminary talks with the Chargers aimed at a contract extension did not progress per Adam Schefter.”

Austin Ekeler Could
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And while Ekeler assuredly isn’t heading to the Vikings via trade, his request may affect Minnesota’s plans with current RB1 Dalvin Cook. The 27-year-old is scheduled to incur a $14.4 million cap hit against the Vikings books in 2023 — a number that may be too large for the front office’s liking. Predictably, because of the large cap number, Cook sprang up in the Vikings rumor mill last week as a possible trade candidate.

KSTP’s Darren Wolfson said on SKOR North’s Mackey & Judd show, “I did hear that there is an offer in on Dalvin Cook.”

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“So if they wanted to trade Dalvin Cook, there is an interested team. I don’t know the pick, I don’t know if it’s a seventh-round pick, a fifth-round pick. And I don’t even know if the Vikings are willing to say ‘Okay, yeah, let’s do that,’ I just know that there is trade interest,” Wolfson added.

Before the Ekeler trade request announcement, Cook would’ve been the most sought-after veteran running back on the market because of his impressive body of work since 2017. But with Ekeler perhaps meeting a similar trade fate as Cook, Ekeler would become an RB-needy team’s priority No. 1.

One source told VikingsTerritory last week that the San Francisco 49ers offered a 4th-Round draft pick for Cook and that the deal is very much on the table. Pairing Cook with an already-expensive Christian McCaffrey in the 49ers backfield seems a bit odd on the surface, but then again, San Francisco is no longer on tap to pay any quarterback megabucks with Jimmy Garoppolo’s deal off the books. Whether it’s the 49ers or a different team, the Vikings shopping of Cook would take a backseat until Ekeler finds his new home.

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An Ekeler trade before a Cook transaction would also set the market price for veteran halfbacks via trade. For example, if Ekeler fetches a 3rd- or 4th-Rounder, well, Cook would probably command a 5th- or 6th-Round pick. It’s just the way it goes. Ekeler and Cook will both be 28 by the time Week 1 of 2023 arrives, but Ekeler is a wee bit more productive than Cook.

The good news for Vikings fans is the timetable. Free agency is underway, and a resolution on Cook should be rendered sooner rather than later.

If the Vikings trade or release Cook, they’d likely draft a running back in April’s draft or explore free agency for a replacement — possibly a reunion with RB2 Alexander Mattison.

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).

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