Throughout the 2023 offseason, the writing has been on the wall regarding the eventual trade or release of running back Dalvin Cook. Last week, there were indications that, once June 1 came and went, Cook could (would) be traded.
But then he wasn’t traded. Or released.
So what happened? It’s possible that some in the organization are asking questions about whether the analytics-driven desire to move on from Dalvin Cook makes good football sense. It’s also possible that the anti-Dalvin crowd senses that they might lose this one, and that they have taken their position to one of the leading newspapers that cover the Vikings.
That was my first thought when reading the Sunday column from Jim Souhan of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. The popular take among fans is to keep Cook around. Souhan opted for the opposite narrative, making the case for cutting (or trading) Cook.
Souhan compared the team to the Rams in the early years of Sean McVay’s tenure, when running back Todd Gurley was the centerpiece of the offense. The Rams pivoted from Gurley to the passing game, ultimately building a passing attack built around a high-end receiver.
“He won the Super Bowl . . . with an inexpensive running back rotation, and a three-receiver set that highlighted a superstar, Cooper Kupp,” Souhan writes.
Without Cook, that’s what the Vikings will be doing, redirecting cap dollars to other positions.
Souhan argues that Cook has begun to show signs of wear. Really? He has been playing with one shoulder, and he finally has gotten the injured one fixed. He should be even better this year, barring any new injuries.
The Rams/McVay comparison doesn’t really hold water. First, the Rams overpaid Gurley, before his knee was shot. Second, the Rams eventually upgraded from a middle-of-the-road quarterback to a franchise-caliber passer who pushed the team over the top. Third, the Vikings don’t have Aaron Donald, the true MVP of L.A.’s Super Bowl win.
In many respects, the Cook conundrum becomes a water’s edge issue for analytics. The numbers and the formulas can easily support moving on from Cook. But it’s one thing to study charts. It’s another thing to watch games.
Cook is a difference maker. A home-run hitter. A leader in the locker room. A guy whose absence will be missed, and not simply because of yards per carry or whatever metrics would support moving on.
To the extent that the Vikings view Cook as a luxury they don’t need to afford because they aren’t true contenders this year, baloney. Things can change dramatically once the season gets going. The Eagles could regress. The 49ers could be injury-riddled. The Lions might not be able to carry the mantle of contender.
A door could open for the Vikings to be better than they were last year, given that the Kevin O’Connell offense is entering year two and the defense can’t be worse than it was last season.
Why surrender the ability to contend at a high level over the economic realities of the running back position? With the contractual right to convert most of Cook’s salary to a guaranteed payment, millions in cap dollars could be pushed to future years — and the Vikings could keep Cook around for one more season.
With no ability to upgrade in the short term to a short-list franchise quarterback, why wouldn’t the Vikings want to keep a guy who played a major role in multiple Minnesota wins last year?
One of the most important things about using analytics is knowing when to ignore them. For the 2023 Vikings, who are more likely to thread the needle to an unexpected Super Bowl appearance with Cook than without him, this is one situation where qualitative needs to trump quantitative.
Unless the team truly is committed to the one-and-done, just-good-enough purple purgatory in which it has resided for most of the last 40 years.
Are Vikings torn on whether to move on from Dalvin Cook? originally appeared on Pro Football Talk