MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Vikings are parting ways with star running back Dalvin Cook for salary cap savings after his fourth consecutive season surpassing the 1,000-yard rushing mark.
The team announced the move Friday, a day after Cook was informed he was being released, a person familiar with the team’s decision told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
“I’m fortunate to have been around such an enjoyable, talented and hardworking person like him over the last year," Vikings general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said. "He’s etched his name in Vikings history with his production on the field but also by consistently giving back to the Vikings Foundation. We are thankful for everything Dalvin brought to the Vikings and sincerely wish him all the best in his future.”
Cook, in just six years with the Vikings, reached third on the franchise all-time rushing list with 5,993 yards. He's fifth in rushing attempts (1,282) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (47).
Cook was scheduled to count more than $14.1 million against Minnesota's salary cap, which would have been the third-highest figure for a running back in the league behind Derrick Henry and Nick Chubb. Cutting him chopped $9 million off the team's cap charges for this year.
The Vikings remain on the hook for more than $5.1 million in dead money for the prorated remainder of the signing bonus from the extension he signed prior to the 2020 season, according to data compiled by Over The Cap.
Cook, who will turn 28 in August, has made the Pro Bowl for four straight years. In 2022, he started all 18 games including the playoffs, a first for him as a pro and a particular source of pride after injuries to his knee, hamstring and shoulder kept him from perfect participation over his first five seasons.
“His leadership in the locker room and all-out effort on the field was undeniable and a key reason he was a multi-year team captain,” team owners Mark and Zygi Wilf said. "We are extremely grateful for all Dalvin has done for the Vikings and look forward to welcoming him back as a Legend.”
Cook had not been present for the team’s voluntary offseason workouts. His future with the club has been unclear at best since the Vikings re-signed his backup, Alexander Mattison, to a two-year, $7 million contract seen as too luxurious for a second-stringer.
Three of Cook's eight career gains of 50-plus yards from scrimmage came in 2022, showing his explosiveness still exists, but he averaged a career-low 4.4 yards per rush as the Vikings struggled with their efficiency and consistency on the ground.
They are heavily invested in their passing attack, too, with quarterback Kirk Cousins and an extension looming for wide receiver Justin Jefferson. The modern game has simply left the workhorse running back behind with more teams getting by on younger and cheaper timeshares in the backfield.
The Vikings somewhat surprisingly brought back Mattison after he became an unrestricted free agent, and coach Kevin O'Connell spoke about him on May 30 as if he were already the featured runner.
“It's been really good to see Alex Mattison take those kind of reps and really show that three-down ownership that he’s been capable of for a long time,” said O'Connell, who also declared without prompting that recent draft picks Ty Chandler (2022) and Kene Nwangwu (2021) were competition for the top backup spot during a post-practice question from a reporter about the running back situation. Dwayne McBride, a seventh-round pick this spring out of UAB, will also bring some upside to the mix.
Offensive coordinator Wes Phillips also spoke as if Cook was as good as gone, when asked on June 6 about Chandler's readiness for a more prominent role: “He’s going to have to be."
The Vikings ranked 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt and tied for 27th in rushing yards per game last season.
“We all knew that that was an area of improvement that we needed, so coming in to this year there’s more emphasis,” Mattison said last month. “It's definitely been a little bit more of an emphasis, and it’s looking good.”
Cook still faces a personal injury lawsuit from a former girlfriend for assault, battery and false improvement stemming from an alleged altercation that began at his home on Nov. 19, 2020. The jury trial in the civil case in Dakota County court was recently rescheduled for March 4, 2024.
AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi contributed.