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Updated: November 6th, 2013 4:00pm
Zulgad: Chris Cook, oft-injured and unproductive, will qualify as bust

Zulgad: Chris Cook, oft-injured and unproductive, will qualify as bust

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

Chris Cook is still considered by some to be the Minnesota Vikings' best cornerback but that would be the definition of damning with faint praise.

There is something else you can say about Cook that is far more telling: The Vikings' first pick of the 2010 draft officially qualifies as a bust.

Many want to focus on Rick Spielman's swing-and-a-miss when it comes to selecting Christian Ponder in the first round of the 2011 draft, but the whiff by the organization on Cook is going to go down as vitally important as well.

If you're looking to assess accurate blame here, Cook was picked by Spielman, who hadn't yet been promoted to general manager, and former coach Brad Childress.

Why are we declaring Cook a bust now? It's simple.

Cook will miss a second consecutive game on Thursday night against Washington because of a hip injury. This will mark the third game Cook has missed this year because of injury and the 29th regular-season game he has sat out in 57 games during three-plus seasons.

Cook is in the final season of a rookie contract that calls for him to make $5.37 million. In 29 games, including one playoff appearance, and 25 starts, Cook has yet to record a single interception.

So Cook can't be relied upon to remain on the field and when he is out there he can't be relied upon to make game-changing plays. Combine those two factors and you have no incentive to reward him with a second contract.

This certainly isn't what the Vikings expected from Cook when they took him with the second pick of the second round of the draft, or when they willingly absorbed public criticism for keeping him on the roster in 2011.

Cook missed 10 games that season after being accused of hitting and choking his girlfriend and there were many who called for the Vikings to cut ties with him. Instead, the team temporarily suspended Cook but then reinstated him and told him to stay away. The fact that Cook continued to draw a paycheck didn't sit well with many, including some in the Vikings' locker room.

If Cook had been an undrafted free agent or a journeyman player, the odds of the Vikings sticking with him would have been almost zero. But cornerbacks are incredibly hard to find and the organization likely didn't feel it had the luxury of jettisoning a potential starter.

Charged with two felonies, domestic assault by strangulation and third-degree assault, Cook was acquitted of both.

Cook had arrived not only as a high draft pick but also had shown flashes of big-time talent in his first training camp. His rookie preseason, however, came to an end when he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee.

Cook returned in the Vikings' third game that season but tore the meniscus in his left knee and never appeared to be the same.

Those injuries served as far more of an indication of what was to come than Cook's solid play in Mankato.

Last season, Cook started the first eight games before suffering a broken arm against Tampa Bay. He returned to start the final two games of the regular season and then the playoff loss at Green Bay.

With Antoine Winfield released during the offseason, the Vikings' hope was that Cook would emerge not only as the team's top corner but also as a reliable leader in the secondary.

That hasn't happened because Cook again hasn't been able to stay on the field.

He missed the Vikings' only victory of the season, sitting out the game against Pittsburgh in London because of a groin injury.

Cook isn't the only cornerback that Spielman has missed on with a pick early in the draft, but he is the highest-profile one.

You also can blame the team of Spielman and Childress for selecting Marcus McCauley in the third round in 2007 and Asher Allen in the same round two years later. McCauley spent two years with the Vikings and Allen retired after the 2011 season.

Unlike with those two, Cook's career isn't necessarily finished.

He is listed at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds and appears far more suited to play in man style coverage and not the Tampa-2 system the Vikings use. Assuming there is turnover in the Vikings coaching staff, and defensive philosophy, Cook might be convinced to come back to play in a new system.

But if that's the case, the Vikings likely will offer Cook a short-term contract for little money. After four years and little return, to offer him more than that would be foolish.

Odds are greater that Cook and the Vikings will decide it's time for each to get a fresh start far from the other. And that will mean Cook will qualify as a bust.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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