There are four good reasons for the Vikings to keep No. 4.
There are four good reasons to let Dalvin Cook go.
Fans may value the former. The new brain trust is likely to value the latter.
Reasons the Vikings should keep their star running back:
1. He played in all 17 games last season after never before playing in more than 14. Maybe he has learned how to protect himself. Maybe the Vikings limiting his usage kept him healthier.
2. Cook balances the offense. Kevin O'Connell needs a way to keep defenses honest as they key on receiver Justin Jefferson. Throwing to secondary receivers is one way; feeding Cook is another.
3. Cook is part of the leadership group. He's popular with his teammates because of his work ethic and attitude.
4. Cook made a handful of game-altering plays last season, including his long touchdown runs against Miami and Buffalo, his winning catch against Washington and his long touchdown on a screen pass against Indianapolis.
Reasons for the Vikings to release Cook:
1. Doing so would save them about $8 million against the salary cap. Cutting or trading Cook, Jordan Hicks and C.J. Ham would save about $16 million, and restructuring other deals (Adam Thielen is one possibility) could save tens of millions more, enabling the Vikings to operate in free agency.
2. Cook's per-play production is no longer exceptional and he may be in decline. He has had one All-Pro caliber season, in 2020, when he rushed for 1,557 yards and 16 touchdowns. His average yards per carry has declined from 5.0 to 4.7 to a career-worst 4.4 this past season.
3. He was outperformed by Miles Sanders this season, and no one considers Sanders to be a great player.
4. Most modern NFL teams don't think investing heavily in a star running back is the best way to build a championship roster. Kevin O'Connell and offensive coordinator Wes Phillips came from the Rams, who won it all with a series of random players at the position last year. The Chiefs and Eagles both got great production out of the position without employing a star, and the last time a team won a Super Bowl while relying on a star back was Seattle, with Marshawn Lynch, in the 2013 season.
The four reasons against keeping Cook are more persuasive than the four reasons for keeping him.
Alexander Mattison has not thrived statistically in the past two seasons, but he is a strong short-yardage runner who could lead a committee of backs that would include Kene Nwangwu and Tyler Chandler.
Solid running backs can usually be found on the free-agent market at low prices, and in the latter rounds of the draft.
Last year, the league's top three rushers — Las Vegas' Josh Jacobs, Tennessee's Derrick Henry and Cleveland's Nick Chubb — missed the playoffs.
The Vikings will have to make similarly difficult decisions regarding receiver Thielen, linebacker Eric Kendricks, safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Patrick Peterson.
If Thielen and the Vikings want to continue their relationship, capologist Rob Brzezinski will be able to create a restructured contract that saves money against the cap.
I'd like to see Kendricks under a different defensive coordinator and back in the 4-3 scheme in which he thrived.
Smith would be difficult to cut this season and could be an important mentor to Lewis Cine as he breaks into the starting lineup. Will he be amenable to a restructured deal?
Peterson, like Cook, is an excellent player who might be better dismissed before he goes into full athletic decline. But he plays cornerback on a team that isn't good enough at cornerback, and his mentorship might be important to Andrew Booth and any 2023 draftees at the position.
The Vikings need more speed on defense and an upgrade to the middle of their offensive line much more than they need a star running back.
It's hard to see how Cook returns, unless he's open to taking a massive pay cut.
That's one hard cut he may not be willing to make.