The Minnesota Vikings had been trending towards releasing Dalvin Cook all throughout the offseason, and finally ended up parting ways with the star running back on Friday after months of speculation. The Vikings are turning over the top job to Alexander Mattison, and Cook will be looking for a new home after spending the first six seasons of his career in Minnesota.
Cook hasn't exactly been bad during his time with the Vikings, as he's ran for at least 1100 yards and been a Pro Bowler in each of the past four seasons, but they managed to re-sign Mattison to a cheap deal in free agency when he was expected to depart. When Mattison gets a starting workload, his production has been fairly similar to Cook's.
Releasing Cook also creates $9 million in salary cap space for the Vikings, which is important because their top wide receiver in Justin Jefferson is going to need a big extension soon. So with Cook now out of the picture, let's see what this means for the Vikings in terms of locking up Jefferson on a long-term deal.
Dalvin Cook's release is good news for the Vikings and Justin Jefferson
Cook was in the middle of a five-year, $63 million deal with the Vikings, but as previously mentioned, Minnesota got out of this deal without really having to bat an eye, as they ended up saving $9 million on their salary cap. Cook has been productive, but he's going to be 28, and running backs don't usually age very well in the NFL, and Mattison re-signing made Cook expendable.
Cook's release may not seem totally necessary, but the Vikings have bigger fish to fry, and that fish is Jefferson. Through just three seasons in the league, Jefferson has quickly emerged as arguably the top wide receiver in the league, earning three Pro Bowl selections, two All-Pro selections, and the Offensive Player of the Year award last season.
Jefferson is the Vikings new building block on offense. Gone are Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, and Cook; this is Jefferson's unit to lead now, and Minnesota seems to know that. However, they can't allow him to do that if they don't have him locked up on a big deal, and Jefferson is going to get paid sooner rather than later.
Jefferson is entering the fourth year of his rookie deal, and the Vikings unsurprisingly exercised his fifth-year option, so he won't be a free agent until after the 2024 season at the earliest. That gives Minnesota some time to work with, but they aren't going to be looking to try their luck with Jefferson; they are going to lock him up as soon as possible.
Given how Jefferson is only going to be 24 by the start of the season, he will easily secure the biggest deal for a wide receiver in the league. Tyreek Hill is getting paid $30 million a year from the Miami Dolphins, while Davante Adams earned a five-year, $140 million deal from the Las Vegas Raiders after getting traded off of the Green Bay Packers. Chances are Jefferson will surpass both of those numbers on his new deal.
It goes without saying that the Vikings are going to need to have some cash laying around if they want to make this deal. They currently have $17.8 million in cap space, which isn't going to be enough to get a deal done. Again, though, the Vikings don't need to extend Jefferson now, and they could end up making him the top priority for the upcoming offseason in that case.
In that sense, wouldn't it have just made sense to hold onto Cook rather than releasing him for nothing? In a way, yes, but it's really hard to believe Mattison would have stuck around in Minnesota had that been the Vikings plan. Releasing Cook outright obviously isn't what Minnesota was hoping would happen, but after they re-signed Mattison, the writing was on the wall.
This may not necessarily speed up an extension for Jefferson, but there's really nothing that should deter the Vikings from getting a deal done with him now. The Vikings still have two seasons of Jefferson on an extremely cheap deal left, and while they could just tack on the extension to his rookie deal, there isn't necessarily a rush for either side to do that.
The extra cap space will surely help, and Jefferson is going to get an extension from the Vikings at one point or another, but the release of Cook shouldn't play a massive role in the contract negotiations here. Jefferson was going to get extended whether or not Cook stuck around, but now that the talented running back is gone, that only means that the Vikings don't have any excuses to avoid extending Jefferson in the near future.