Coming off by far the best season of his three-year NFL career, Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook is trying to take advantage of that success by telling the Vikings that he will not participate in any team activities – and that includes reporting to training camp – without a new contract. In fact, he claims he's ready to sit out the 2020 season.
Is Cook underpaid? After rushing for a career-high 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns (tied for second-most in team history) while catching 53 passes for 519 yards in helping lead Minnesota to the playoffs last year, the answer is yes considering he is due a base salary of just $1.3 million in 2020. Cook took 38.1% of the Vikings' touches from scrimmage in 2019, the ninth-highest figure in the NFL.
Cook's camp reportedly is looking for a deal around the $16 million per season that Carolina recently gave Christian McCaffrey. However, Cook holds almost no leverage in this situation – and he's no McCaffrey. ESPN is reporting that Minnesota's initial offer was for well below $10 million per season. Because he was a second-round pick in 2017 and not a first-rounder, Cook didn't get a fifth-year option on his rookie deal.
First off, the former Florida State star hasn't been able to stay healthy. He was limited to four games as a rookie due to a torn ACL, missed five in 2018 with hamstring injuries and two last year with a shoulder injury. When the Vikings needed him most, a Week 16 matchup against the Packers in a de facto NFC North title game, Cook wasn't able to go. Minnesota lost 23-10 at home and had to settle for a Wild-Card spot.
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Second, Cook will not be holding out of training camp because of language in the new collective bargaining agreement. If he doesn't report on the first day of camp, Cook would sacrifice an accrued season in 2020 and would not hit unrestricted free agency in 2021 but instead be a restricted free agent. Minnesota could just slap a draft-pick tender on him in that case.
Third, the Vikings have two promising young (and very cheap) running backs behind Cook in Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone. Mattison averaged 4.6 yards on 100 carries last year and Boone 5.6 on 49 – Cook averaged 4.5 ypc. For this coming season, Cook is given an Over-Under projection of 1550 combined rushing and receiving yards and 11.5 total touchdowns. He is +10000 on the William Hill moneyline odds to win NFL MVP (last running back to do it was a Viking – Adrian Peterson).
Fourth, Minnesota already has $182 million in cap commitments for 2021, and the cap could drop significantly this winter due to coronavirus-related issues like no fans at games. Thus, the Vikes could be over the cap.
Finally, too many other teams have been bitten by overpaying a running back. Think the Cardinals with David Johnson (now with Houston), the Jets with Le'Veon Bell or the Rams with Todd Gurley. The Vikings could always slap the franchise tag on Cook ahead of next season like the Titans did this past winter with reigning NFL rushing king Derrick Henry.
Bell of course skipped the entire 2018 season with the Steelers in a holdout and ex-Charger Melvin Gordon held out into the 2019 season before reporting (and didn't get a dime more). He "only" got $16 million over two years from the Broncos this spring.
The Vikings open the season as 3-point home favorites on the William Hill point spread against the Packers on Sept. 13. Will Cook be on the field? In his one game vs. Green Bay last year, Cook rushed for 154 yards and a TD on 20 carries but the Vikings lost that too (Week 2 at Lambeau). This year will amazingly mark the first time ever the Vikings host the Packers in a season opener.
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