A Dark Horse Candidate to Snag Dalvin Cook Has a Direct Link to Minnesota

NFL: Denver Broncos Head Coach Sean Payton Introductory Press Conference
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In 2021, George Paton took over as the general manager in Denver. Before then, he was Rick Spielman’s right-hand man.

The Broncos have stumbled over these past couple years. Failing to elevate despite pulling off a massive deal for Russell Wilson prior to the 2022 season further accentuated the struggle. With Sean Payton now in the coaching saddle, the Broncos will be hoping for better fortunes in 2023.

Might Dalvin Cook help? After all, Wilson was often aided by a strong running game in Seattle. Arriving at a winning run/pass balance in Denver could help the veteran QB to bounce back from his stunningly poor season.

Dalvin Cook and the Broncos Fit

Right off the top, it’s worth circling back to that connection. Minnesota opted for Dalvin Cook at 41st overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. Paton was in a prominent position with the Vikings at the time – Assistant General Manager – so we can assume he had some influence with the selection.

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Sep 25, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

The recent move to send Za’Darius Smith to Cleveland underscored how Kwesi Adofo-Mensah wants to operate. Don’t just release a player to get the cap space, trade that player to also get some draft capital in return. The draft picks – a pair of fifths that replaced Minnesota’s 2025 sixth and seventh – were pretty light, but it’s better than nothing.

Adofo-Mensah always wants value when he’s pulling off deals. Partner that obvious desire with the fact that he has always been able to cut Cook (but hasn’t) and a trade is indeed the likeliest outcome.

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Jul 27, 2022; Eagan, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings general Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

The chatter around the NFL is that Cook is indeed on the trade market. Adam Schefter joined the fun not too long ago (as Vikings Territory relays). Jeremy Fowler has suggested a trade is possible and Darren Wolfson has also expressed his skepticism about Cook’s employment in Minnesota. At the end of April, Albert Breer noted that Minnesota is looking for trade partners.

More importantly, GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah sounds pretty lukewarm about the idea of retaining #4. According to Adofo-Mensah, Cook could “in theory” be a “complementary” player to Alexander Mattison (who was just re-signed).

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Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison (2) celebrates with Minnesota Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr. (84), back, after he scores a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the second half at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

So far, Adofo-Mensah hasn’t done business with Denver, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be interested in the future. The Smith trade to the Browns is instructive. Shipping a star player to the AFC comes with the benefit of not needing to see him (usually). Leaning on a previous relationship – Kwesi was employed by Cleveland – can help the deal to get across the finish line.

True, Adofo-Mensah’s and Paton’s time in Minnesota didn’t overlap, but the Denver GM still has a lot of relationships within Minnesota’s front office. One thinks of cap wizard Rob Brzezinski as simply one carryover from the Spielman/Paton era to the Kwesi era.

Atop the Broncos depth chart at RB are Samaje Perine and Javonte Williams. Talented, yes, but not at the same level as Cook. In theory, the gliding, elusive Cook would add an extra element to Payton’s offense in Denver.

Broncos HC Sean Payton
Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Denver Broncos head coach Sean Payton on the sidelines during Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps the final piece of the puzzle is cap space. Currently, Denver has just under $9 million, meaning they’ve got the finances to pull off a deal. The Vikings may need to be willing to keep some cash in the Land of 10,000 Lakes to facilitate the deal, but that’s not necessarily a major deal (as we saw in the Za’Darius trade).

Add it all together and there’s at least some reason to be keeping an eye on Denver. They’re a team looking to compete, have an offense that must improve, they have some cap space, a RB hierarchy that could accommodate Cook, and a connection between the front offices. Being able to ship Cook to the other conference is just the cherry on top.

In all likelihood, the Vikings will get late-round draft capital for the star running back. Waiting until after June 1 to pull off a deal will result in the Vikings gaining $11 million in cap space (if there are no cap shenanigans).

Editor’s Note: Information from Pro Football Reference and Over the Cap helped with this piece.