The Minnesota Vikings shocked many in the NFL world by releasing star running back Dalvin Cook at the beginning of June. Money was the primary motivator here, as the Vikes saved $9 million this year by cutting Cook and moving on to the younger Alexander Mattison.
The Vikings also showed they trust Mattison enough to name him the starter despite the fact that Cook recorded four consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons — earning Pro Bowl spots each time. Cook's efficiency dropped each of the last two years, though the Florida State product still averaged a respectable 4.4 yards per carry in 2022.
The running back will be 28 years old by the time the 2023 NFL season begins — the same age as fellow discarded running back Ezekiel Elliott — as many teams will feel that after six NFL campaigns, he is worn out and past his prime. The free agent market is still plentiful with veteran running backs who may or may not have some life left in their legs — Elliott included.
Vikings training camp is a month away, and it is time for Minnesota to add another running back to fill out its roster.
Vikings: 1 perfect move to fill out roster before training camp
Sign free agent running back Ezekiel Elliott
With Dalvin Cook gone, the Vikings are putting a lot of pressure on new starter Alexander Mattison. Mattison has been moderately successful as Cook's backup over the last four years. This includes four games with 90+ rushing yards and an average of 115 total yards in six career starts. Still, making the jump to being the primary back for an entire season will be a challenge for the 25-year-old back who has never exceeded 500 rushing yards in a campaign.
He will not get much support either, as the rest of the Minnesota running backs are even more unproven. The Vikings' current backfield backups include (in order): Ty Chandler, a 2022 fifth-round pick with six career carries, 2023 seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride, and 2021 fourth-rounder Kene Nwangwu, who has 22 career carries. This young group, while talented and promising, hardly inspires confidence from Minnesota football fans.
The Vikings are in desperate need of a complimentary back, or at the very least a backup, with proven NFL experience. The free agent market actually has a strong sampling of household names still available, including Leonard Fournette, Kareem Hunt, and Mark Ingram. Ingram and Fournette are bruisers both clearly past their primes who would not add much to the Minnesota offense. Hunt is an intriguing option, but he offers a similar skillset to Mattison, which would not make sense for a backfield duo.
The best fit for the Vikings is former Cowboys back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott has 600 more career carries than Cook and some of that wear showed over the last few seasons, but he was an adept receiver and efficient rusher before converting to more of a short-yardage power back in 2022. Playing alongside Mattison as a secondary option or even a second primary rusher will improve Elliott's efficiency and help the Vikings get the most of the veteran back.
Money was the reason the Vikings released Dalvin Cook, and with Elliott on the free agent market at this point in the summer, his value will continue to drop the longer he stays unsigned. At a discounted price, Elliott is an ideal addition for the Minnesota Vikings.