Scoggins: Between Cook and a hard place

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 2011 - 10:36 PM

The Vikings deferred to the legal process, not wanting to dump a talented cornerback nor cling to him too desperately.

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Chicago Bears Johnny Knox (13) and Chris Cook

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The Vikings don't want to part ways with Chris Cook -- at least not yet anyway -- but they don't want the second-year cornerback around the team either.

By definition, he's suspended. Except he's getting paid his weekly salary to not work, roughly $190,000 for the final eight games.

Despite growing suspicion that the team would cut ties with Cook on Monday, the Vikings instead essentially hit the pause button. It's a safe assumption that Cook won't play again this season, but the door hasn't been closed on him returning to the Vikings again at some point.

This is professional limbo, or more accurately, a team waiting for the legal process to play itself out.

"It's hard to say that we're going to see him again [this season], considering what he's facing," coach Leslie Frazier said. "But we'll see what happens."

The news was not all that surprising. The timing, however, was interesting.

The Vikings suspended Cook without pay after he was arrested on felony domestic assault charges last month. These are extremely serious charges, including allegations that he attempted to strangle his girlfriend.

League rules allowed the Vikings to keep Cook on the suspended list for four weeks. At that time, they would've needed to announce a decision on how they would proceed with him.

Instead, the team lifted the suspension after one game and placed him back on the 53-man roster with pay. Cook won't practice, play or be allowed around the team. Frazier said he wasn't sure if Cook is even in town.

Why the pre-emptive move? Why not wait? Why "eat up," in Frazier's words, a roster spot on a guy who isn't going to be in uniform anytime soon?

Frazier didn't say as much directly, but it's clear the organization is not ready or willing to wash its hands of Cook despite two arrests this year. (Cook was cleared of gun charges stemming from a dispute with a neighbor in his hometown in Virginia in March.)

Though it might not be popular in the court of public opinion, the team appears willing to wait on the legal system before determining its next move. You can argue whether that's the right course of action, but professional teams don't always rush to judgment in these instances, even if the details inspire disgust and outrage.

It's always tricky when discussing how something like this affects a team on the field in the context of a legal matter. Cook is charged with a serious crime. That takes precedence and importance over everything. Depending on what happens in the courts, he could end up serving time behind bars.

But the Vikings aren't going to completely ignore the football part of the equation. They were counting on Cook long-term. He had started to show signs validating their decision to take him with their top pick in the 2010 draft.

This is a tough spot for Frazier and the organization. No one denies that. Cut ties with Cook and their issues in the secondary are compounded exponentially. Stick by him and risk wearing a win-at-all-cost public perception.

This isn't as simple as benching Donovan McNabb in favor of Christian Ponder. Or jettisoning an overweight Bryant McKinnie or malcontent Bernard Berrian.

To me, it comes down to trust. Can the Vikings trust Cook going forward, even if he is ultimately cleared by the courts or avoids jail time? Do they trust that he will change, that he's worth keeping around, that they won't end up in another situation down the road?

I talked to Cook in May after he was found not guilty of brandishing a gun in that argument with his neighbor. Cook maintained throughout that he never pulled a gun.

"It definitely will make me smarter about how I react to other people and what they say to me or what they try and do to me," he said. "It just makes me more cautious about what I say or how I react to other people."

Now, a few months later, he's facing another serious legal matter. It's hard to predict whether Cook will play another game in a Vikings uniform, but the odds seem better after Monday's development.

The team isn't willing to play that card just yet.

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

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