Vikings Running Back Dalvin Cook Poised to Hold Out
The NFL offseason continues on as we roll through the OTA period, which this season, is being done virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re still probably at least six weeks away from the start of training camps for teams, which will take place at the main practice facility for each club as opposed to traveling to somewhere else. Despite all that, there still are plenty of stories regarding contracts, free agents and other off-field incidents to keep us busy while we wait for football to start in earnest.
According to Adam Schefter, Vikings running back Dalvin Cook plans on holding out until he receives a contract extension that he deems is a “reasonable offer.” Cook is the feature back for the Vikings’ offense but the team has been more focused on hammering out deals with other players on that side of the ball this season. Quarterback Kirk Cousins signed a five-year, $150 million extension in the offseason despite still having a year left on his previous deal. Minnesota also worked out extensions with wide receivers Stefon Diggs (now with the Bills) and Adam Thielen over the past couple of years. Cook and the Vikings have started negotiations but they have yet to come to a deal that meets the fourth-year running back’s demands. He’s slated to make $1.3 million in 2020.
Cook ran the ball 250 times for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He added 53 receptions for 519 yards out of the backfield as a valuable safety valve option. For his efforts, Cook was named to the Pro Bowl for the first time. Cook played a career-high 14 games last season after logging 11 games in 2018 and just four contests in 2017. He has to show that he can avoid the injury issues that have plagued him at this stage of his career. All told, Cook has run the ball 457 times for 2,104 yards with 17 touchdowns while adding 104 receptions for 914 yards and two scores over the course of his three-year NFL career.
Cook finds himself in a similar situation that many talented running backs have faced in recent seasons. Teams simply don’t want to throw big money at running backs due to a declining return on investment. We’ve seen a lot more of teams going to the running back by committee format, mixing and matching backs in a variety of different ways. The salary structure for running backs simply isn’t as inflated as it is for other positions like the quarterback and wide receiver roles on the offensive side of things.
Cook has only one real card to play at this stage and that is his availability to the team and its offense. By sitting out and not taking the field, he’ll force the Vikings to roll with a different system in order to run the ball this season. That would put Alexander Mattison, who carried the ball 100 times for 462 yards plus a score while adding 10 receptions for 82 yards as a rookie third-round pick, in for an expanded role. That could be an option but it’s safe to say that the Vikings would rather have Cook handling the lion’s share of the work in the backfield. While Ezekiel Elliott set the blueprint for the holdout strategy last season after the Cowboys picked up the fifth-year option on his deal, things are a little different for Cook.
The collective bargaining agreement that Elliott held out under before signing a six-year, $90 million deal just days before the season opener last year was markedly different than the one this year. Now, fines are heftier for holding out during training camp and teams can no longer eliminate fines for holding out as has taken place in recent years. The Rams were a prime example of that when they waived the fines of Aaron Donald back in 2017. In addition, players that hold out during training camp can be prevented from accruing a full season of service time as far as going toward free agency.
Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, David Johnson and Lesean McCoy are among the big names that have faced similar situations in the last couple of years. Bell held out in 2018 for the whole year instead of playing for Pittsburgh before signing a deal with the Jets. Gurley signed a four-year, $60 million extension with the Rams before getting cut loose just two seasons into the contract. He ended up inking a one-year deal with the Falcons. Johnson signed a deal worth $13 million with the Cardinals only to find himself dealt to the Texans in a trade that sent DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona. McCoy was cut loose by Buffalo before last season before catching on in Kansas City. By the time the postseason rolled around, he was a nonfactor, even as the Chiefs claimed their first Super Bowl win in a half-century.
It’s going to be an uphill climb for Cook to try and work out a deal here, especially with the potential for a depressed free-agent market and salary cap next season. While it’s clear that he feels that he is worth more than what he’s getting, it will be interesting to see how the Vikings value his services going forward. This will be a critical negotiation for both sides.