One of the interesting aspects of the Minnesota Vikings offseason has been the automatic assumption – mixed in with some outlandish predictions – that rookie Dalvin Cook is going to be the whole show at running back in 2017.
After seeing the Vikings trade up to make their first selection of the 2017 draft, the implication was clear – they had Cook rated as a talent much better than where they were sitting at No. 48 and pulled the trigger on a deal to move up to No. 41 and land him.
Obviously, the team loves what Cook brings to the table. But it doesn’t mean that he is going to automatically be handed a starting job on Day 1.
Far from it.
Before the draft, the Vikings still had the inevitable decision to make about parting ways with Adrian Peterson. Fans may have hoped that the two sides could reach a compromise to keep Peterson in Minnesota, but inside the walls of Winter Park it seemed a foregone conclusion – compounded when Peterson proclaimed he would play the remainder of the season, only to be shut down after extremely limited play against Indianapolis and never got far enough away from the spot he first touched the ball to when there were two or three defenders blocking his path.
Those making the big franchise decisions knew they had to do something.
They went out in the free-agent market and with plenty of options available to them – both pricey, in the bargain bin and everywhere in between – and the cooperative decision was made to bring in Latavius Murray.
It can’t be overestimated that the Vikings in a post-Peterson (and pre-Cook) era was looking for a power runner to replace Peterson. They weighed their options and felt Murray was the best option moving forward.
And they still kept their options open.
Murray’s three-year, $15 million contract is actually a one-year deal that would have just $1.2 million in dead money if it were to end after one season. But there is no heavy lifting (in salary-cap terms) in any of the three seasons, so as long as Murray does what the front office was convinced he can do at a high level, he’s going to earn his spot.
At the moment, all the talk is about Cook … and rightly so. Vikings fans are envisioning their own version of Jamaal Charles – or a running back version of the fading memory of the game-breaking speed Randy Moss brought to Minnesota.
But this is the NFL and this is the NFC North. At the moment, the only team with no questions at running back is universally regarded as the lone division team with no chance to win it – the woeful Chicago Bears and their centerpiece, Jordan Howard.
The Packers have a wide receiver as their primary running back. Detroit’s Ameer Abdullah is one injury away from being quietly referred to in-house as Jahvid Best 2.0.
The Vikings don’t have an embarrassment of riches in Murray and Cook, but they may have the best dual-threat option in the division – something that they didn’t have last year.
If running the ball still wins in the NFL – ask any defensive player and they will let you know the value of stopping the run – the Vikings are in pretty decent shape considering that they have closed the book on a running back who is going to remain in the team’s record books essentially forever.
Murray and Cook have never taken a meaningful snap as members of the Vikings. Cook is getting all the love right now, but don’t discount Murray. The Vikings fell in love with him before they fell in love with Cook.