Do you have a comment or question? Send it to the Vikings.com Mailbag! Every Monday we'll post several comments and/or questions as part of the Vikings.com Monday Morning Mailbag. Although we can't post every comment or question, we will reply to every question submitted.
The speculation about Dalvin Cook's status with the Vikings for 2023 officially ended Friday when Minnesota released the running back who was picked in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Cook overcame injuries early in his career and climbed the franchise leaderboard, finishing his time in Minnesota ranked third all-time in rushing yards (5,993) and fourth in rushing touchdowns (47).
He delivered dazzling moments along the way, becoming a favorite for many fans. "The Chef" also authentically connected with the community. His strong support helped launch the Vikings Table charity food truck's successful endeavors.
The Vikings will now move forward with a mandatory minicamp this week before breaking for several weeks ahead of reporting to training camp.
*I don't understand why [General Manager] Kwesi [Adofo-Mensah] released Dalvin Cook. Here is my question for you. If this was all about saving money in the salary cap, then why did we sign Josh Oliver? For example, we are paying a backup, low-end tight end $7 million while cutting the second best running back in the NFL with four straight Pro Bowl seasons (at $11 million this year) just to save $4 million? Please explain how this makes sense. Thank you. *
— Tom Gustafson
Without doing too much of a dive into the financials, using the average annual value for contracts (Oliver signed a three-year deal for $21 million) doesn't paint the complete picture.
His deal included a $7 million signing bonus, but the part of Oliver's deal counting against the salary cap in 2023 is $2.5 million (you can see the breakdown by spotrac.com).
The release of Cook saves money at the running back position this year and beyond. The timing allows the Vikings to stretch his remaining dead money cap hit over this year and 2024.
The Vikings obviously have a different projection for Oliver than Tom's current viewpoint, or else they probably would not have signed him. While there could be some technicalities over whether the team opens a game with one or two tight ends, Oliver figures to impact the offense as a blocker in the run game and by blocking or as a receiving target when Minnesota throws the football.
His signing was the first to make news during free agency, and while that might not have been the position in most fans' minds to address immediately, I'd encourage everyone to see his potential impact before judging him as a Viking.
Oliver has looked impressive during the voluntary Organized Team Activity practices. While the pads won't go on until training camp, Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips said Oliver already has shown his size, strength and ability to affect multiple aspects of the offense.
"He's a very large man with long arms, huge hands. He's strong. He's got all those things going for him," Phillips said last week. "Kind of the interesting thing about Josh is, coming out, he was really more of a pass catcher. It was like, 'Oh, he's got the size; we're gonna teach this guy how to block.'
"… He caught a lot of passes at San Jose [State] and ran a 4.5-something. So when he gets that train rolling, he's just a tough cover due to his size, his length, his catch radius. We had a play down on the goal line a couple days back where a linebacker had great coverage on him, and he just – it was basketball. He just boxed him out, he extended his arm, and there was just no way [the linebacker] could cover it. We're excited about what he can do both in the run game and the pass game. But certainly, that physical presence in the run game has really helped us."
More casually, over the weekend, my neighborhood hosted its annual "Wing Fling" gathering, and I was talking with a long-time fan who is actually super excited to see what Oliver's impact on the offense will be, among other aspects of the team.
Maybe Tom's projection will be correct; maybe Oliver will deliver more like my neighbor, the Vikings and I expect. I'm looking forward to seeing what he adds.
The release of Dalvin Cook is just another blunder by the new GM. All he has done is get rid of players from the previous regime that at least were yearly contenders. He has yet to address the team's biggest weakness, that being the offensive line. I can already foresee what will happen this year and beyond. We will have receivers that won't get the ball enough because of it. [Justin] Jefferson will be throwing tantrums on the sidelines with his new pricey contract because he doesn't get the ball thrown to him enough because [Kirk] Cousins will be sacked or fumbling with constant pressure he receives or his inability to scramble. I have been a Vikings fan for almost 60 years now, and I have zero belief in this GM to assemble a contending team. Unfortunately fellow Viking fans, we have many lean years ahead of us until this GM gets fired.
— Jim Craigie
The Vikings built rosters with many great players over the years, but for one reason or another, Minnesota is trying to go back to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2008-09.
I've previously pointed out that it is too early to evaluate Adofo-Mensah's 2022 draft class, but one can point to some impactful yet economical additions in free agency last year that helped the team go 13-4 and win the NFC North.
The team is poised to return the entire starting offensive line in 2023, highlighted by Christian Darrisaw at left tackle and Brian O'Neill at right tackle. O'Neill is recovering from his Week 17 Achilles injury but has been involved in the offseason program.
Center Garrett Bradbury opted to re-sign with the Vikings, and left guard Ezra Cleveland has started all 17 games in each of the past two seasons. At right guard, Ed Ingram is heading into his second season after playing all 1,168 offensive snaps last season. Phillips talked about Ingram's progress last week.
"I couldn't be more pleased with our pick and the fact that he played the whole year and worked through the growing pains as a rookie – as any rookie in this league. Particularly at offensive line where the slightest false step – a receiver can get away with a false step most times, but the slightest thing when you're inside, especially those interior three [offensive line positions], and you've lost," Phillips said. "So the way he handled that, he wasn't fazed by it, he didn't blink about any of that stuff. Just kept trying to do better. And he's in great shape. I think he looks really good. Looked good coming in, and I expect big things from him."
The Vikings also maintained their continuity among offensive line reserves. Much has been made about the skill players having their second year in the same system, but that continuity should help up front.
I've been a Vikings fan since 1972 when I met Carl Eller on the sidelines of a game against the Oakland Raiders. I was 5 years old and never once stopped rooting for the Vikings.
That's all stopped now. I keep watching this new leadership dissect not just players but leaders of the community players who have paid their dues and deserved to go out as Vikings. Eric Kendricks and Dalvin Cook were captains, leaders, and culture builders. Now they are shopping Danielle Hunter. Why? So they can pay one dude big money? What happened to the term team? If keeping Justin Jefferson means losing everybody else, what kind of team or future does Minnesota have?
I'm done. I've decided the teams I rooted for through the decades were deserving of it, but this new look Vikings where they show no loyalty to the players or us fans by discarding the guys we've rooted for and would like to keep. I have no faith in this leadership anymore. So I walk away and will just cheer on XFL.
— Edward Teach
Is [releasing Cook much like Adam Thielen] good policy? I mean, we pay huge money to players in the beginning knowing we'll not be able to re-sign them because of other salary commitments (like Jefferson). We save a little bit, still spend and never get to a point of being a championship caliber team with consistency over a few years like in the days of the Purple People Eaters. On the upside, can't wait to see our RB by committee.
— Nicholas Balkou
Grouping these two together because of the Purple People Eaters tie-in with Eller, as well as the sentiments of saying goodbye to beloved players.
Let's start with Eller, who starred at the University of Minnesota before the Vikings selected him in the first round of the 1964 NFL Draft.
Love that the pregame connection was so impactful at age 5. I still remember being a couple of months into my time with the Vikings and Carl insisting that we take a selfie before the Taste of the Vikings event. It was my first interaction with a Purple People Eater and still resonates. He's been so gracious in the years that have followed. Eller was unable to finish his career as a Viking because he was traded to the Seahawks before his final NFL season (1979), but there's been no doubt that "Moose" is a Viking through-and-through.
I understand why Cook's release stings. Just like the departure of Eric Kendricks and Adam Thielen, which also happened earlier this offseason.
The Purple People Eaters formed before free agency began changing the NFL and sports landscape, so it was more common to see elite players stay with a team for a decade-plus. The lack of free agency, however, limited economic opportunities for that generation of players.
Bidding wars have led to teams doling out larger contracts. Some are completely fulfilled through their expiration; others result in restructured contracts, trades or releases.
When Cook's contract extension was signed in 2020, the offense ran through him.
Jefferson was heading into his rookie season, and I think most would agree his production has exceeded initial expectations.
Under Kevin O'Connell, the offense seemed to flow best through the passing game in 2022, although there are multiple times when Cook made winning plays last season for the Vikings (the touchdown against the Colts on the screen pass, the long touchdown at Miami, the scoring catch at Washington after Harrison Smith's interception, and the jolting run at Buffalo still replay in my mind).
The running back position has been one where more and more teams have tried to shift from tying up so many financial resources into a featured running back and instead going with the committee approach.
Only two of the past 10 Super Bowl winners have had their leading running back rush more than 210 times in a regular season. The 2013 Seahawks fed Marshawn Lynch 301 times, and Beast Mode delivered. The 2016 Patriots handed off to LeGarrette Blount 299 times on the way to Super Bowl LI. That was a much different approach than New England's splitting of carries 96-94-89 among its top three rushers on the way to Super Bowl XLIX.
Since 2019, Cook has rushed at least 249 times each season, averaging 18.5 carries per game played.
Alexander Mattison is primed for the starting opportunity after serving as the lead backup to Cook the past four seasons. Minnesota also has 2021 fourth-round pick Kene Nwangwu, 2022 fifth-round pick Ty Chandler and 2023 seventh-round pick DeWayne McBride among the position group.
Mattison has averaged 6.8 rushes per game. We'll find out more if his carries jump up to a Cook level or what a committee approach will look like.
The NFC North has had a lot of good receivers over the last 15 years, but from a production standpoint, the two best seem to be Calvin Johnson and Justin Jefferson. Part of this could be because Aaron Rogers spread the ball around a lot for the Packers, both elevating and overshadowing many of their great pass catchers. Anyway, when I look at the Lions with Johnson after his 2012 contract — when he got "quarterback money" — the Lions had losing records three of the four years on that contract. The one year they didn't, they were still only second in the division. On his best year with 1,964 yards, 2012, they only won four games.
I understand that comparing two talented players is very different from two entire teams, not to mention coaches and the front office. My question, though, is how do the Vikings turn Jefferson's talent into team success with a new contract? Specifically, how do they avoid the pitfall of paying one player so much that the per dollar cap weight doesn't carry enough of the team? They seem to be aware of this, hence not extending Cousins for another huge chunk while also releasing/trading other large contracts.
There are too many examples to mention of teams in the NFL rewarding a top talent and then crumbling without being able to afford supporting talent. For the Lions, Matthew Stafford become the highest paid player in 2017, the Lions went 9-7, and then promptly fell to the league's basement for three years. Even for the Vikings, it's easy to see how the league-best 2017 defense deteriorated immediately with the signing of Cousins. Cousins was an upgrade at quarterback, but the cap couldn't sustain both.
Because talent level gets exponential pay, is it better to have 53 players who are average to great, or just one who's the best at what they do?
— Jacob S. of Minneapolis
Really interesting line of questioning from Jacob.
Megatron's seven-year deal in 2012 was in the neighborhood of $113 million. He ultimately retired after 2015.
According to overthecap.com, the Lions percentage cap hits toward Johnson were 11.6 in 2011, 9.6 in 2012, 7.2 in 2013, 9.9 in 2014 and 14.3 in 2015.
I have personally wondered, if the Vikings and Jefferson reach a substantial extension, if the same folks who have been so up in arms over Cousins' contract will be as vocal if Jefferson's percentage increases considerably.
You can check out Cousins’ percentages of the Vikings cap here. The highest percentage hit (16.7) during his time with the Vikings landed in 2021. That impact is down to 9.2 percent this year because of the way the Vikings stretched it over subsequent "void years." This is currently his final year under contract, even though both parties could opt for an extension/re-signing after the season.
Jefferson is under contract for 2023 (fourth year of his rookie deal) and 2024 (team exercised its fifth-year option). His pay is set to make a substantial bump on that fifth-year option because his performance earned the franchise tag treatment, which will be more than $19 million for a receiver in 2024. That will be 7.7 percent of the team's cap, compared with 1.9 percent in 2023.
With a salary cap in place and strictly enforced by the NFL, it does add a layer of allocation solutions for teams to figure out.
Football is the ultimate team sport, requiring execution of all 11 players on the field, as well as roles by depth players. But there are times in games when an elite (I know the word has gotten a bit overused) performance can sway an entire game.
If a team knew it could skate through without its depth being tested, then it could put as much as possible into fewer than 53 players to try to max out the number of elites. But injuries happen.
Maybe the best approach is to make sure a team optimizes its players who have the highest chances of making the biggest winning differences while trying to enable the other aspects of the team to play above the average?
In one year of evaluating O'Connell's coaching philosophy, it seemed clear that he fundamentally believes in developing the entirety of the roster.
Are there any Viking offensive linemen who have to work hard to keep their weight on? Do they keep it on all year long? I've read about and seen photos of retired linemen who seemingly shrink after playing just because they didn't need to keep the added weight.
— Florian Kubes in Montreal, Quebec
Every player at every position has an ideal playing weight. For some positions, that's not much of a departure from similarly framed non-NFL players.
Offensive linemen, however, do many things to keep their weight up during their careers and shed it after their playing days.
Steve Hutchinson was just in town two weeks ago for the Minnesota Vikings Foundation's Golf Tournament. He still looks powerful but considerably more svelte than his playing days.
Current Vikings offensive line coach Chris Kuper played eight seasons with the Broncos and also has shed the weight he carried as a player.
Advancements in nutrition and weight training over the years have equipped players with information to try to carry the most beneficial weight. They can adjust their caloric intake, particularly in high-intensity periods like training camp to replenish and maintain.
The Vikings commit resources toward nutrition and weight management plans for each player.
We're a long way from the Purple People Eaters mixing in Jake's Stadium Pizza to replenish during two-a-days at Mankato.
Do you think Jaren Hall can win the backup job when he gets a chance at the competition?
— Demarous Davis
After Cousins, the Vikings have Nick Mullens, who was acquired by the Vikings in a trade last preseason and re-signed, along with Hall, who was selected in the fifth round this year.
The depth chart so far has been Cousins, then Mullens, then Hall.
The Vikings have utilized two practice fields during their offseason program with starters essentially on one and the developmental squad on the other. Most of my time has been spent observing the field with the starters. Mullens has spent time on both fields, leading a second grouping.
In a situational drill during last week's session that was open to media members, Cousins and Mullens led impressive drives, moving their units into field goal range.
I've seen less of Hall's action so far, but I look forward to seeing Mullens and Hall compete during training camp and in Minnesota's preseason games.
Phillips was asked about Hall last week and said the following:
"Well, I think for a quarterback to come in – and especially if you're not thrust into the role right away and you're getting limited reps – just to see him out here kind of following Nick Mullens' lead, and right now they're out on the field going through the script, the plays that he did not get, walking through, even if it's just visualization or mental, he's got young receivers out there right now, and they're going through the plays," Phillips said.
"There's a lot to learn in a short time, but so far, he's progressed really well. He's learning how to play in an NFL system," he added. "They've got a great program at BYU, and their system's great for what they do, but there's definitely some different things that he's had to work on – footwork and kind of tying your feet to the reads, which is a little bit different, I think, from anything he's done."