The Minnesota Vikings are entering a difficult offseason following their disappointing wild-card defeat at the hands of the New York Giants. A 13-win regular-season campaign ended without a playoff victory. Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah must now navigate through some salary-cap-related issues while attempting to improve his roster. The Vikings are currently scheduled to be approximately $21 million over the 2023 salary cap, per Spotrac. Sacrifices will have to be made, and one could involve superstar running back Dalvin Cook.
Cook signed a five-year, $63 million contract extension in 2020. Cook is scheduled to enter the third year of that extension and the Vikings could save a significant amount of money by releasing him. Designating Cook as a pre-June-1 release nets the Vikings nearly $8 million in cap savings while carrying a dead cap charge of $6.2 million, per Spotrac.
A post-June-1 release saves the Vikings a sizable $11 million while spreading out manageable dead cap charges across 2023 and 2024 ($3.1 million). Temptation is certainly present. The Vikings may seriously consider releasing Cook, but it’d be in their best interest to retain their dual-threat playmaker.
Cook put forth an incredible performance throughout the 2022 season. The former Florida State standout rushed for 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns en route to his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard campaign. Cook added 39 receptions for 295 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Perhaps most importantly, Cook remained healthy and played a full season for the first time in his career. Cook isn’t showing signs of tailing off despite carrying heavy workloads.
Cook proved to be an excellent fit in Kevin O’Connell’s offensive scheme. The first-year head coach crafted an offense that took advantage of Cook’s abilities. Surely O’Connell prefers to keep Cook in the fold.
There are alternative avenues for the Vikings to create cap space. Some of them are difficult to swallow. Veteran wide receiver Adam Thielen is a clear candidate to be released. Unlike Cook, the aging Thielen has flashed signs of slowing down. Designating Thielen as a post-June-1 cut saves the Vikings roughly $13.5 million in cap space.
Starting quarterback Kirk Cousins is set to play on an expiring contract. Extending Cousins could lower his immediate cap hit ($36.2 million). Releasing veteran safety Harrison Smith could net the Vikings $7.3 million or $15.2 million depending on the timing. Za’Darius Smith ($13.6 million) and Eric Kendricks ($9.5 million) are also candidates to be released or restructured to provide immediate relief. Adofo-Mensah has options, and all of them would allow the Vikings to keep Cook.
The Vikings must also consider their own unrestricted free agents. Center Garrett Bradbury, defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson, and cornerback Patrick Peterson highlight a group of every-down starters and keynote contributors that could hit the open market. Ideally, the Vikings would like to keep all three players. Bradbury and Tomlinson have flashed development as their careers have progressed. Peterson is still performing at a high level and is crucial to helping a young secondary acclimate to the NFL game.
We can’t forget about Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson. Jefferson is eligible to sign an extension this summer. The Vikings will trigger Jefferson’s fifth-year option, but he’ll surely command a long-term contract worth more than $30 million annually. The Vikings are going to make Jefferson the highest-paid receiver in NFL history.
Minnesota’s impending offseason looms large. Adofo-Mensah has several moving pieces to consider that will ultimately shape its 2023 campaign. Keeping Cook should be a top priority.
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