Is the Time Right for the Vikings to Trade Their Stars?

Danielle Hunter Is Back — Sort Of
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It’s not quite been a mass exodus, but veteran players have been on their way out in Minnesota. Rumors have swirled all offseason regarding the future of Dalvin Cook, and today news broke that the Vikings plan to release the star running back. Trade talk for Danielle Hunter is heating up, so is the time right for the Vikings to trade stars? That’s an interesting question that questions what the Vikings ambitions are for this season.

Star players in their thirties have been allowed to leave, starting with the release of Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks. Patrick Peterson wasn’t re-signed, and most recently Za’Darius Smith was traded to the Cleveland Browns. Hunter and Cook are under 30, although Cook turns 28 in August, which is considered old for a running back. Hunter turns 29 in October and, in the last year of a team-friendly deal, is looking for his big payday.

Dalvin Cook

Vikings to Trade
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The interesting caveat of the Cook news is the wording “plan to release”, which could be a public message to interested team’s to come and offer a trade before the player hits the open market. Cook was given a big contract by the previous regime in Minnesota, indicative of the lead back for a run-first team. Times have changed, and Justin Jefferson is the focal point of the Vikings offense now, and he got a monster contract coming his way. Being on the hook for $14.1 million this year, $15.6 million in 2024, and $14.5 million in 2025 for a RB who isn’t even the focal point of your offense doesn’t make sense.

Cook is one of the most talented tailbacks in the league, and although the 2022 season was somewhat feast or famine, with a lot of runs that went nowhere, his ability to break off big game-defining plays was still there and a rare talent. He also played with an injured shoulder, which he had surgery on in the offseason. What difference will that make? Will it bring with it more consistency and return to the form we saw in 2020, where he had career highs in rushing yards (1557), rushing touchdowns (16), and yards per carry (5.0)? 

Alexander Mattison and the rest of the running back room are unlikely to match that performance. Still, they could perform adequately in a supplementary role for the passing game if that’s what the Vikings want. I will be sad to see Cook leave; he is an exciting player who is a joy to watch when he’s in full flight.

Danielle Hunter

The Vikings Top Defensive Performers vs. Lions, per PFF
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I’ll get straight to the point and say I do not want the Vikings to trade Hunter. He’s young enough to play at an elite level for at least the next five years and is by far the Vikings best player on defense. If the Vikings hope to be competitive, and everything they have done and said this offseason says they do, then trading Hunter makes no sense. He proved his fitness last season after injury problems the previous two years, and despite a change of position, got into double figures for sacks and tackles for loss.

The Vikings have worked themselves into a strange position where the offense is on the verge of being unquestionably elite, but the defense looks like it’s being torn down to start again. In “tear it down” mode, trading Hunter would make sense, perhaps to gain some ammo to make a move for a quarterback in next year’s draft. Are the Vikings willing to move Hunter and back defensive coordinator Brian Flores to work wonders with a predominantly young group of players? That’s a big ask, even for a coach of Flores’ standing.

There are also the big money contracts due to Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and Christian Darrisaw to consider over the next year. How much does Hunter want to sign a new contract, and is it affordable for the Vikings? It’s clear he won’t be playing for the $13.1 million he is due for this season.

Other Trade Options

The Bradbury Update
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One player I marked as a possible trade candidate before the draft was Ezra Cleveland. The left guard is in the last year of his rookie contract and has proved to be a solid but not great player. The Vikings not drafting any offensive linemen made moving on from Cleveland very unlikely unless they made a move for Dalton Risner, who is surprisingly still a free agent.

Kirk Cousins to the San Francisco 49ers chatter came and went, as it seems to do every offseason. The Vikings signal-caller has one more season in purple at least. I’ve tipped Brandon Powell to win the punt returner job; if that comes to fruition, the Vikings should try and get a late-round pick back for Jalen Reagor. Other than that, the Vikings don’t have anyone else worth considering to trade