The Minnesota Vikings have released Dalvin Cook.
The team announced Friday afternoon that it was cutting Cook after it didn’t find a trade partner for him. Reports emerged Thursday that Minnesota would release Cook on Friday if another team didn’t make a suitable trade offer for the soon-to-be 28-year-old running back.
"I hold Dalvin in the highest regard and am grateful for his contributions on and off the field," Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell said in a statement. "Dalvin is a tough, dynamic player and a respected leader by his teammates, which was evident by his multiple seasons as a team captain. As a finalist for the 2022 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, 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 rushed for almost 6,000 yards in six seasons with Minnesota, including at least 1,000 yards in each of the past four seasons. He's also made the Pro Bowl in each of the past four seasons and has rushed for the fourth-most yards among all running backs since the Vikings drafted him in 2017.
Unless Cook returns to the Vikings later in his career, he'll finish as the team's third all-time rusher with 5,993 yards. Only Adrian Peterson and Robert Smith rushed for more. His 47 rushing touchdowns rank fourth in franchise history.
Cook's contract, age and injury history likely played a role
Though Cook proved to still be a productive running back, his salary cap hit was about to get expensive. Cook signed a five-year, $63 million extension in 2020, but only $2 million of Cook's 2023 salary was guaranteed. He would have counted $14.1 million against the salary cap if he remained on the roster. A post-June 1 designation also saves the Vikings $9 million against the cap, per Over The Cap.
This could also be an attempt by Minnesota to avoid the dreaded running back cliff. Only 13 running backs since 2015 have eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in a season after they turned 28 and only two — Aaron Jones and Derrick Henry — have done it since 2020. Cook experienced a decline in efficiency in 2022 as well: His rushing yards over expectation dropped from +81 to -41 over the past year, according to NextGen Stats, and Cook led the NFL with 62 carries that either lost or didn't gain a yard, per ESPN's Kevin Seifert.
Cook has an extensive injury history as well. Though he didn't miss a game in 2022 for the first time in his career, Cook missed at least three games every other season, including an ACL tear in his rookie season and multiple shoulder injuries. Cook underwent shoulder surgery in February but is expected to be ready for the 2023 season.
Cook joins the list of released veteran running backs
Two other former highly-drafted running backs also hit free agency after they were released by their respective teams.
The Dallas Cowboys cut 2016 No. 4 pick Ezekiel Elliott, while the Tampa Bay Buccaneers moved on from Leonard Fournette, who was drafted 37 picks earlier than Cook by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017. Both were productive veterans who saw a decline in efficiency, and their teams decided to jettison them for younger and somewhat cheaper players. The Cowboys will look to Tony Pollard, while the Buccaneers like what they have in 2022 third-rounder Rachaad White.
Alexander Mattison, who's backed up Cook since 2019, looks like the heir to the Vikings backfield. Minnesota reportedly shopped Mattison ahead of the 2022 season but decided to keep and re-sign him on a two-year, $7 million deal with $6.35 million fully guaranteed.
Cook's possible team fits
There are plenty of teams who could use a veteran running back like Cook.
It will obviously depend on the price, but Cook — who grew up and played college in Florida — could make a return to his home state with the Miami Dolphins, who reportedly almost traded for Cook in March, according to Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer. The Dolphins have a lot of running backs but their top-two options are injury-prone Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. Mostert just turned 31 and Wilson will be 28 in November.
The Denver Broncos are also another team heavily interested in signing Cook once he's officially on the open market, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Running back Javonte Williams is still recovering from a torn ACL and Samaje Perine is the only other experienced rusher on the depth chart.
Perhaps the most interesting team, though, would be the Buffalo Bills. Cook's brother, James Cook, is the projected started running back in Buffalo and rumors connected him to the Bills earlier this offseason.