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Vikings send strange message by dumping Dalvin Cook

Mike Florio and Chris Simms examine Danielle Hunter’s future with the Vikings, given the LB is scheduled to make $5.5 million this season in the final year of his contract.

What are the Vikings doing?

It’s a question many will be asking as the news spreads that running back Dalvin Cook will be released on Friday. For casual fans who pay little attention to football from February to September, it will be a surprise. For those who follow it closely, it’s the culmination of weeks of speculation and momentum pointing this way.

That doesn’t make it any more understandable. The Vikings went 13-4 last year, with Cook providing key moments in multiple wins (Dolphins, Commanders, Bills, Colts). They don’t have a difference-maker like him at the position, all due respect to Alexander Mattison. It feels like they’re looking to simply slash salary based on analytics without regard to the practical impact of Cook’s absence on the team.

Yes, they need that cash and cap space to sign receiver Justin Jefferson. But it would have been easy to exercise the right to restructure Cook’s contract and push cap dollars to future years, as the cap keeps going up and up.

On one hand, there’s a certain amount of self-awareness that comes from recognizing that having Cook on the team won’t deliver a Super Bowl win this year. On the other hand, why wave a white flag pre-emptively?

Anything can happen once the games are played. The offense should be better this year. The defense can’t be any worse. If it only improves a bit under new defensive coordinator Brian Flores, they could make a run -- especially with a little luck.

It could still happen without Cook, but not having Cook won’t make it any easier. And if Cook does well in his next stop, many will wonder what the could have done to boost the Vikings beyond whatever they will otherwise be.

Still, all things considered, it feels like just another day in purple purgatory, where being just good enough is always good enough, and where loyal fans will be lured to fill the stands and buy the merch not by the reality of a championship run but by the consistently fleeting, false hope of one.