No News is Good News? Za’Darius Smith, Dalvin Cook Remain After Plenty of Speculation

NFL: NFC Wild Card Round-New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

For a little while, it has been evident that those around the NFL have been curious about the fates of EDGE Za’Darius Smith and RB Dalvin Cook in Minnesota. The decision to bring in Marcus Davenport and then retain Alexander Mattison made things even more fascinating. Were these signings about replacing talent or reinforcing the positions?

From the current vantage point, it looks like the two veterans could be sticking around.

Declan Goff of Skor North weighed-in on the situation, noting that the potential cap savings for a Smith cut significantly decreased with today’s deadline arriving (Jason Fitzgerald and Darren Wolfson even joined the fun in the comments to further discuss the situation). Per OTC, an additional $5 million got added to his guaranteed money, so cutting him becomes less likely.

While a cut is less lucrative, a trade is still eminently plausible. Coming into the offseason, I predicted that we wouldn’t see a trade involving any of the team’s major players. So far, that has proven true, but Smith is the one I’m keeping my eye on since he has explicitly asked to play elsewhere.

Cook, in many ways, remains a mystery.

Cook has been successful largely due to his elusive running style. He’s not the fastest running back in the NFL – he ran a 4.49 forty – but he has often been among the shiftiest. Indeed, it has been his ability to effortless glide on the football field, changing directions with ease as he rapidly accelerates to top speed, that has led to so much success. Special player when he gets into green grass.

Vikings: Week 16
Sep 20, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports.

Partnering that elegant running with some underrated toughness made him a great RB for a long, long time. The question entering the offseason really rested in whether the team could justify paying him top dollar given how little they ran the ball in 2022. Furthermore, injury concerns do persist even after a mostly healthy season. After all, the talented ball carrier did have shoulder surgery during the offseason.

Unlike Cook, Smith hasn’t been a long time Viking. Instead, he was in Green Bay from 2019-21, routinely wreaking havoc on Minnesota’s overmatched offensive line.

In his lone season with Minnesota, though, the talented edge rusher quickly established himself as both an excellent player and fan favorite. He brings great personality and charm to the team, so it wasn’t hard for fans to quickly begin cheering for the former Packer. Seeing him pile up sacks in the opening half of the regular season didn’t hurt, either.

By the end of 2022, Cook and Smith had some impressive overall statistics.

The RB had 1173 rushing yards and 8 TDs. He added on 295 receiving yards and couple scores through the air. Meanwhile, Smith put together 10 sacks, 24 QB hits, and 15 TFLs to partner with his 44 tackles and 5 PDs.

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants running back Matt Breida (31) runs with the ball against Minnesota Vikings linebacker Za’Darius Smith (55) during the third quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers point to a couple players who are still capable of making plays. The concern, of course, simply rests in their advancing age and reasonably high cap hits. Cook is coming in at a $14,101,272 cap hit and Smith at a $15,490,195 cap hit. The nearly $30 million in cap charges for the RB and EDGE isn’t insignificant, especially within the context of a budget that’s still quite snug.

Friday afternoon always felt like the first major checkpoint for Cook and Smith since their deals had money become guaranteed. Does that mean the Vikings can’t move on from either? By no means, but the cost of doing business has gone up if the end is a mere cut.

Since that hasn’t happened, expect Cook and Smith to either play for the Vikings in 2023 or be traded.

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