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For the first time since 2007, the Vikings will begin the season without a former Pro Bowl player among their main ball-carriers. It might be a long time before they again count a running back among their highest-paid players.

They released Dalvin Cook on Friday, parting with the running back after six seasons and a series of offseason moves that made his departure seem like a formality. Cook, whose $12.6 million average annual salary was the third-highest in the league at his position, will play on a new deal next season, while the Vikings recoup between $9 and $11 million of cap space for 2023.

By waiting until after June 1 to move on from the 27-year-old Cook, the Vikings can spread the remainder of his $15.5 million signing bonus over two seasons. They will absorb $5.1 million of dead money in 2023, subject to offset language in Cook's contract, with $3.1 million of dead money remaining on their 2024 cap.

Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said, in a news release, "Dalvin's approach to the game and his commitment to sportsmanship is clearly respected across the league. We appreciate Dalvin's positivity, energy and leadership and will be pulling for him in the future."

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 offset language in Cook's contract, though, means every dollar of the first $2 million he makes from another team will be used to reduce what the Vikings owe him for 2023.

The five-year, $63 million deal they gave Cook the day before the 2020 season made him one of the highest-paid running backs in the league and cemented his status at the time as the focal point of an offense that had become one of the few run-first attacks in the league under coach Mike Zimmer.

In 2020, Cook 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 that year.

Ankle and hamstring injuries, as well as Cook's long-running history with shoulder issues, cost him four games in 2021, though. The Vikings' decision to replace Zimmer with former Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell signaled they would recommit to the passing game, and Cook carried the ball just 15.5 times per game in 2022 while playing most of the season with a harness on his left shoulder.

The big plays he made — a 53-yard touchdown run that sealed an October win over the Dolphins, an 81-yard run that sparked the Vikings' November rally against the Bills and a 64-yard score off a screen pass that completed the team's 33-point comeback against the Colts — might have represented Cook's most enduring appeal to the Vikings.

The fact they brought Alexander Mattison back on a two-year, $7 million deal, and guaranteed most of the money in the 25-year-old's contract, signaled a change was coming.

O'Connell talked during the offseason about trying to build a more efficient running game; 84 of Cook's 264 carries last season went for a yard or less, and his success rate of 48% was tied for 32nd in the NFL among 42 backs who carried at least 100 times in 2022, according to Football Outsiders. Mattison had the second-highest success rate among backs who carried at least 70 times.

Last week, 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.

Sources said the team had explored either trading Cook or restructuring his contract for several months after re-signing Mattison, and it seemed obvious Cook would see his role change if he were to return to Minnesota for a seventh season. He stayed away from Minnesota during the Vikings' voluntary offseason program, and the Vikings reportedly informed Cook on Thursday they would release him on Friday, giving him a chance to land with another team before mandatory minicamps next week. The decision also created one final chance for any team interested in keeping Cook off the open market to made its last, best trade offer to the Vikings for the running back.

Cook leaves the Vikings as one of the more accomplished rushers in team history. His 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 running back is still part of two active court cases in Minnesota. His ex-girlfriend Gracelyn Trimble filed a November 2021 suit in Dakota County alleging Cook had physically abused her and held her against her will in a November 2020 incident. That lawsuit is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing in July. Cook has denied the accusations, and his Hennepin County lawsuit against Trimble, alleging she had committed fraud and defamed him, is scheduled for a jury trial in May 2024.