Expensive Vikings Star Is the Odd Man Out
Some longtime Vikings stars departed from the organization in the 2023 offseason. The Vikings released Adam Thielen after ten seasons with the club, and the receiver signed a deal with the Carolina Panthers and will face the Vikings in 2023. His contract was getting too expensive for the level of play he provided.
In addition to Thielen, the fate of Eric Kendricks was similar. Kendricks was a starter since 2015 but slowed down lately, and the $9.5 million cap savings were too much to pass up. The two weren’t the only Vikings stars who will play for a different team in the future, as Dalvin Tomlinson and Patrick Peterson left in free agency after their contract expired.
Expensive Vikings Star Is the Odd Man Out
Another Viking might be on his way out in the next few weeks or months. Running back Dalvin Cook is returning to a crowded running back room with a huge salary.
The team has re-signed Alexander Mattison, who entered free agency after his rookie deal expired. However, the Vikings surprisingly brought him back with a decent contract. Mattison will make a total of $7 million in the next two seasons. $6,350,000 of it is guaranteed, so he’ll likely play for the Vikings in both seasons.
The running back has been in Cook’s shadow since he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2019 draft. A reliable backup, Mattison showed enough to deserve a shot as the lead back, especially after signing a second contract with the team. The Vikings could’ve brought in a cheaper running back in free agency to back up Cook but chose Mattison because they believe in him.
In addition, Cook looked like he lost a step or two in the last couple of seasons after he was arguably the best running back in the game in 2020. He still produced big numbers, but the explosiveness didn’t pop off the screen like in previous years.
The Vikings can save roughly $6 million by releasing him and almost $8 million by trading him away. One of his biggest strengths, the big play ability, is still there. Cook had multiple game-changing plays in 2022, including his big scores against the Bills and the Colts. Both were essential to two of the greatest games in recent Vikings history. However, he will turn 28 in August, and running backs in their late 20s are close to the end of their careers.
Cook is still a decent runner, and the team would be foolish to let him go in a vacuum. However, roster building isn’t done in a vacuum. The re-signing of Mattison already puts $3.5 million in a position that the NFL doesn’t value. The most successful teams in the league have cheap running backs. The big-money rushers don’t win in today’s pass-heavy game.
In addition to the two halfbacks on a second contract, fullback C.J. Ham also agreed to a new deal. Many speculated about his release because of his declining role in the first year under head coach Kevin O’Connell but the team prioritized him and surprisingly extended his contract.
According to Ben Goessling, Ham’s extension is worth $8.65 million over two seasons. He’s under contract for three campaigns.
The cap hits of the five backs on the roster are the second-highest in the league, only trailing the Dallas Cowboys, a nightmare cap distribution in the 2020s. Only the Buccaneers and the Chargers ran the ball on a lower percentage of the offensive plays than the Vikings, and both teams fired their offensive coordinator because the offense lacked balance.
It doesn’t make sense to put that much money into a position that is underused in the offensive system and isn’t valued in the league. These two wrinkles can’t be ignored by the analytically driven general manager, Kwesi Adofo-Mensah.
Cook is recovering from shoulder surgery. The intention was to make his shoulder more stable, as he suffered multiple dislocated shoulders in his career. The running back also suffered a broken shoulder in 2019 and played through the injury.
To complete a trade, he must undergo a physical with his new team. There’s no timetable for a potential trade. A deal around the draft is possible.
The Vikings can replace Cook with Mattison and 2022 draft pick Ty Chandler in a committee or add another rookie in the draft. Minnesota also employs Kene Nwangwu, an ace on kick returns, but he has never been used much on offense. Explosive running backs can be found even late in the draft.
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Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt
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