The dawn of the Kevin O’Connell era in Minnesota has brought newfound optimism to the Vikings’ fanbase and locker room, especially surrounding the offense. All parties seem to be in a position to gain from the new regime, as excitement bubbles over for what the team is capable of: Kirk for MVP, Jefferson is the next Cooper Kupp, and 14 wins. There is one Viking that may not stand to gain from the changing of the guard in Minneapolis — that would be one Dalvin James Cook.
In his five seasons as the feature of the Zimmer-era offense, Cook became a household name and landed in three straight Pro Bowls. A run-first approach benefited Dalvin, as he amassed the 6th-most touches in the NFL since he came into the league, despite missing 25 games . When he signed a 5-year extension in 2020, all signs pointed to the Florida State alumnus being a mainstay in purple for years to come. It made all the sense in the world to pay big money for a top-tier running back in the conservative Vikings offense. That approach isn’t as obvious in a Kevin-O’Connell-led offense.
A New Approach
KOC brings an offense from LA that utilized a running-back-by-committee approach with Darrell Henderson, Cam Akers, and Sony Michel. There are no household names in that group — a unit that won the Super Bowl. Therein lies the problem for Cook.
At this point, Cook is head-and-shoulders above Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu, so he shouldn’t have to split carries. However, as Vikings fans know all too well, Cook is a lock to miss time with injury (he’s never played more than 14 games in a season in his career), meaning Nwangwu and Mattison (and maybe Ty Chandler) will get their time to shine . If the Vikings’ offense functions at an equal- or higher level during that time, Cook’s future with the team could be in jeopardy.
After this season, the Vikings can get out of the last three years of Dalvin’s deal that currently pays him the 4th-most among running backs. There’s no doubt he’s earned his paycheck, and I would argue he deserves to be second or even first on the list. However, it’s going to be difficult to justify paying top dollar for Cook, Cousins, and Jefferson (he will get paid handsomely in the next year or two by the Vikings or someone else). So if Dalvin isn’t as valuable as he has been in years past, Kwesi and Co. will have to think long and hard about retaining one of the best in the business.
If the Shoe Fits
There are ways that the new offensive system could end up benefiting Cook. With a coach who will throw the ball more than the previous one, Dalvin should have fewer rushes per game than he has previously, which means fewer punishing hits to his fragile body. If Cook has fewer touches out of the backfield, he will be more likely to stay healthy, reducing the likelihood of Mattison and Nwangwu taking his job.
Another way that Cook could solidify his value to the team is in the passing game. Rumors surfaced during minicamp that he could be used as a WR more often this year. This strategy would not only benefit an offense lacking receiver depth outside of their top three but would increase Cook’s value to the team in 2022 and beyond.
In some ways, regardless of how electric Cook is in 2022, his days in Minnesota may be numbered unless the new front office can perform some cap gymnastics. If this is indeed the last time, we get to see Dalvin “cook,” let’s not take it for granted.
Will is a husband, father of two, and lifelong Minnesotan. He earned an undergraduate degree in Economics (just like Kwesi Adofo-Mensah). He became a Vikings fan in 2009 when Brett Favre stole his heart. Will’s favorite pastimes are water skiing, Minnesota sports, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch. Follow him on Twitter (@willbadlose) and find his other sports content at Twins Daily and his very own Bad Loser Blog.