Vikings coaches and players continue to talk about running back Dalvin Cook's exit as an eventuality. After Tuesday's practice, offensive coordinator Wes Phillips was asked whether second-year running back Ty Chandler was ready to be a contributor.
"I think he's going to have to be," Phillips said. "He's a real pro, working hard at it like the whole room. It's really kind of a special group of guys as far as when you're talking about Alex [Mattison], Kene [Nwangwu] and Ty, and of course C.J. [Ham] being involved with that as well."
Cook remained away from the Vikings during Tuesday's voluntary practice open to reporters, as he has all spring. He has not agreed to change the $11 million due on his current deal, while General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has yet to find a trade partner for the 27-year-old lead back. But nobody is publicly talking like he's expected to return to Minnesota.
Mattison stepped into the lead role this spring, taking first-team handoffs from quarterback Kirk Cousins throughout OTAs. Mattison signed a two-year, $7 million contract in March that has workload incentives; he'll get $250,000 for eclipsing 750 yards, and another $250,000 if he reaches 1,000 rushing yards. He hasn't yet topped 500 rushing yards in a season.
"I love it here, so that was part of it," Mattison said. "But some other things on the business side and understanding how it's all laid out, how it's all going to work out – it's the best fit."
Chandler and Nwangwu have split carries behind Mattison during spring practices for what's projected to be the No. 2 role. Rookie running back DeWayne McBride, a seventh-round pick, resumed practicing Tuesday after signing his four-year contract worth nearly $4 million. The Vikings have all six 2023 draftees under contract.
Jefferson, Hunter remain away
Like Cook, receiver Justin Jefferson and edge rusher Danielle Hunter also remain away from the team during the voluntary portion of the offseason program. The minicamp next Tuesday and Wednesday is the first mandatory event. Jefferson became eligible for a new deal this offseason, while Hunter's contract remains a sticking point; a 2021 solution to an impasse moved money up in his deal, setting up a current below-market $4.9 million salary. He earned $20 million last year.
Receiver Jordan Addison, the first-round pick, remained sidelined because of an undisclosed injury suffered during rookie minicamp last month. Nose tackle Harrison Phillips, right tackle Brian O'Neill and tight end T.J. Hockenson also did not practice and rehabbed on a side field.
Tight end Josh Oliver, the ex-Ravens blocker who signed a three-year deal worth up to $21 million in free agency, replaced Hockenson. Oliver — listed at 6-5 and 269 pounds — was signed to block. But he got open down the sideline and nearly made a one-handed deep grab during practice.
"When he gets that train rolling," Phillips said, "he's a tough cover just due to his size."
'Where's No. 44?'
Fourth-year safety Josh Metellus' ascension appears to be continuing. He has been commonly seen with starters as a fifth or sixth defensive back. Safety Cam Bynum remains the second safety, starting next to Harrison Smith. After a busy Tuesday mixing into the first-team defense, Metellus was asked if he'll still play as often on special teams; he has a team-high 937 reps on special teams since he was drafted in 2020's sixth round.
"As long as they let me," Metellus said. "I don't know what coaches got planned."
New defensive coordinator Brian Flores could have many plans with Metellus, who has been given a range of responsibilities during practices.
"Because I want to be out there, I want to help the team win," Metellus said. "I want to be able to throw something in Kirk's head: Where's No. 44? Is he at safety right now? Is he at linebacker? Is he at nickel?"
Ellefson added to Vikings staff
Former Vikings tight end Ben Ellefson, the Hawley, Minn., native who announced his retirement last week because of injury, will stay with the team this year. Ellefson will have a "hybrid" role on staff, coach Kevin O'Connell said, allowing the 26-year-old to explore post-playing options in coaching and scouting. Ellefson had four stints on injured reserve in three NFL seasons, including twice last season because of a groin injury.
"You just want to continue to be a resource for these guys," said O'Connell, a former NFL quarterback, "and he came to the conclusion that he still wants to be part of our organization, and I sure as heck want him to be here."