The Vikings are expected to release or trade running back Dalvin Cook by the end of the week, according to two sources with knowledge of the team's plans, giving Cook a chance to land with another team before mandatory minicamps next week.
A series of offseason moves made his departure seem like a foregone conclusion. Sources said the team had explored either trading Cook or restructuring his contract for several months after bringing back Alexander Mattison on a two-year deal, and it seemed obvious Cook would see his role change if he were to return to Minnesota for a seventh season. He had stayed away from Minnesota during the Vikings' voluntary offseason program.
The four-time Pro Bowler will leave the Vikings as one of the more accomplished rushers in team history.
Cook's 5,993 rushing yards are the third-most by a Vikings running back, behind only Adrian Peterson — the man Cook was drafted to replace — and Robert Smith. Cook's 47 rushing touchdowns are fourth, behind Peterson, Chuck Foreman and Bill Brown.
The Vikings signed Cook to a five-year, $63 million deal the day before the 2020 season, making him one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL.
That season, they made Cook even more of their offensive centerpiece under coach Mike Zimmer. In 2020, he carried the ball a career-high 312 times, logging a league-high four games with at least 30 touches. His 1,557 yards ranked second in the NFL behind only Derrick Henry, and he was named to his third Pro Bowl.
Ankle and hamstring injuries, as well as Cook's long-running history with shoulder issues, cost him four games in 2021, though. He played the final three months of the 2022 season with a harness on his left shoulder after injuring it against the Lions in October. Last season, despite playing each of the Vikings' games for the first time in his career, his 15.5 carries per game were his fewest since 2018, when a hamstring injury cost him four games and limited his workload.
The Vikings' offensive shift makes Cook's deal seem anachronistic by the 2023 offseason, and the structure of Mattison's contract, with more than 90% of its $7 million value guaranteed over two years, suggested they planned to change the way they structured their backfield. Last week, coach Kevin O'Connell talked about Mattison's potential in a three-down role. This week, offensive coordinator Wes Phillips highlighted young backs like Kene Nwangwu and Ty Chandler as they battle for roles in the offense. O'Connell had sought more efficiency in the run game after a season in which 84 of Cook's 264 carries went for a yard or less.
Cook, who had $2 million of his 2023 base salary guaranteed for injury, underwent shoulder surgery in February, effectively ensuring the Vikings could not release him before the amount became fully guaranteed on the third day of the league year in March. The team continued to search for a resolution for Cook, and seems to finally have arrived at one.