The biggest question facing the Vikings front office and salary cap experts is what to do about running back Dalvin Cook.
Cook has become one of the best running backs in the NFL at only 24 years old. Since being drafted in 2017, he has averaged 72.6 yards per game, a number which ranks eighth in the NFL during that stretch.
That means when his contract comes up at the end of the 2020 season, Cook will be looking for a big payday.
This season, Cook will make $2.02 million on his rookie contract, which ranks 39th in the league among running backs according to spotrac.com.
But as every Vikings fan knows, the team is not in a great salary cap situation, even after losing several veteran free agents in the offseason.
The team currently has $29.5 million in salary cap space but also have 29 free agents including players such as safety Anthony Harris, linebacker Eric Wilson, guard Pat Elflein and defensive end Ifeadi Odenigbo.
Cook has been great but also battled injuries, including an ACL tear in the fourth game of his rookie season.
In his three seasons, he has played in 29 of a possible 48 regular-season games. But when he plays well, the Vikings win.
In Cook’s career, the Vikings are 9-1 when he rushes for at least 90 yards, including going 6-1 last season. The lone loss was 21-16 at Green Bay on Sept. 15 when Cook was incredible, running for 154 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown to go along with three receptions for 37 yards.
Kubiak knows RBs
Now that Gary Kubiak is taking over as offensive coordinator with Kevin Stefanski leaving to be head coach of the Browns, Cook could become the focal point of the offense, especially with the trading of wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. Even though quarterback Kirk Cousins had a phenomenal 2019 season, the Vikings prefer to run the ball more.
Kubiak has long been a running back genius. When Kubiak coached Terrell Davis in Denver, Davis ran for 5,296 yards from 1996-1998, the most rushing yards for a running back over three seasons in NFL history.
He also helped running backs such as the Broncos’ Clinton Portis and Mike Anderson and the Texans’ Arian Foster to career years in his zone running scheme.
Kubiak said earlier this offseason that he wants to feature Cook even more now that he is running the offense.
“I remember coming in here about this time last year and [coach Mike Zimmer] talking to us as a staff, saying, ‘We’ve got to get more physical. We’ve got to run the ball,’ ” Kubiak said. “Obviously we have a great piece back there in Dalvin to do it.”
Kubiak added that one of the reasons the team wants to feature Cook more is because he can do it all.
“You can say that about some players in this league, but then you turn the game film on and they come out of the games in certain situations,” Kubiak said. “Dalvin’s a great pass protector, understands what’s going on scheme-wise on third down as far as picking up blitzes, those types of things. He has great hands. I mean, you go back and look at the screens we ran with Dalvin, he was probably as good as anybody in football doing that.
“So I think you’ve gotta give him the credit. He’s an all-around player. He’s not a guy who just does this well or that well. He does a lot of things well.”
Cook finished last season with 250 carries for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns, and 53 receptions for 519 yards, all career highs.
And even though he missed two games, his 1,654 yards from scrimmage were the sixth most of any running back in the league, behind only Christian McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliott, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry and Leonard Fournette.
TCO will be ready
With the news that the NFL will only allow teams to hold training camps at their own facilities, the Vikings have to be feeling fortunate that they have TCO Performance Center, a huge and world-class location for hosting training camp later this summer.
If they were still holding training camp at Mankato, as they did from 1966-2017, they would be having camp at Winter Park this summer.
And while that was a good practice home for years, it wasn’t anywhere near the kind of facility the Vikings have in Eagan.
Local golfers ready
The Charles Schwab Challenge will tee off next week in Texas as the first PGA tournament since March, and Minnesota will be well-represented in the field.
All commitments will be finalized by 5 p.m. Friday, but currently the tournament is expecting to have former Gophers Tom Lehman and Erik van Rooyen in the field along with local standout and Winona State grad Troy Merritt.
Lehman had participated in five PGA Tour Champions events before the season was suspended due to the coronavirus but hasn’t taken part in a PGA Tour event since the 3M Open in Blaine last year.
Meanwhile, van Rooyen will be playing in his fifth PGA Tour event this season after tying for 38th at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions event and third at the Mexico Championship. In those two events, van Rooyen earned $667,000.
Merritt will be in his 12th PGA Tour event this season. In his most recent event, he finished tied for 24th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 8. He’s made $283,918 this season after earning $1.53 million in 2019.
The biggest golf question in Minnesota is whether or not the 3M Open will take place July 23-26 in Blaine. It would be a big blow to local golf if that tournament was postponed after such a successful showing last year in the inaugural tournament as a PGA Tour event rather than a Champions Tour stop.
• Gophers football coach P.J. Fleck got another big commitment for the Class of 2021, this time from defensive end Austin Booker of Greenwood, Ind. Booker also had offers from Oregon, Iowa, Indiana, Purdue, Michigan State and Nebraska. Booker told 247Sports that Gophers defensive line coach Chad Wilt was the first person to offer him a scholarship.
• Florida Atlantic is scheduled to be the Gophers’ first football opponent in September and their 2020 recruiting class is ranked No. 1 in Conference USA. Their top signing was guard Sebastien Dolcine out of Copiah-Lincoln (Miss.) Community College who started his career at Kentucky. He was ranked as the No. 23 JUCO prospect in the country.