The last thing an NFL team with Super Bowl aspirations wants is offseason drama—especially in a year when every franchise has all of that they can handle. Unfortunately, that's just what the Minnesota Vikings face in the form of a threatened holdout from running back Dalvin Cook.
After rushing for 1,135 yards in 2019 and helping to lead the Vikings to a wild-card berth, Cook has reportedly said he'll sit out offseason activities (and maybe the 2020 season) if he doesn't receive a "reasonable" contract extension, per ESPN's Adam Schefter.
At first glance, this impasse puts the Vikings in quite the predicament—an argument can be made that Cook is the most important offensive player on Minnesota's roster. But look a little closer, and it doesn't take long to figure out the team has all the leverage.
As Schefter reported, a source close to Cook said the fourth-year running back won't participate in any more offseason activities until he receives a considerable raise over the $1.3 million he's set to make on the final year of his rookie deal.
"He's out," the source said. "Without a reasonable extension, he will not be showing up for camp or beyond."
According to ESPN's Courtney Cronin, Cook is prepared to take things one step further if he isn't made one of the highest-paid backs in the game: He's willing to sit out into the regular season.
That would be a massive blow to Minnesota. Over his three-year career, the Vikings have been a much better team with Cook on the field. When he produces, the squad wins—it's as simple as that. Per ESPN Stats and Information, during his career, the Vikings are nine games over .500 when Cook gains at least 100 scrimmage yards—and three games under .500 when he does not.
Also, though Cook is angling for a big raise, the 24-year-old isn't necessarily trying to break the bank. While he reportedly balked at Minnesota's initial offer of less than $10 million per season (according to Cronin), it's believed Cook would be amenable to a contract that pays him in the range of $13 million per year.
But while $13 million per season would look really good in Cook's checking account, writing that check would be problematic for the Vikings for several reasons.
The first is simple: Minnesota doesn't have a ton of cash to throw around. Many of the moves the Vikings made (or didn't make) this offseason were born of a lack of cap space—including the trade that sent wide receiver Stefon Diggs to Buffalo. The Vikings are in better shape than they were earlier in the offseason, but the team still has just $12.3 million in space, per Over the Cap.
Then there's the matter of Cook's not insignificant injury history. There's no denying he's a difference-maker—he has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and over 100 total yards per game for his career. But staying on the field has been an issue. Cook's rookie season ended after a month, compliments of an ACL tear. In 2018, hamstring issues cost him five games. He also missed two contests last year, including a critical Week 16 matchup with the Green Bay Packers.
All told, Cook has missed 19 games over three seasons. That's almost 40 percent of the regular-season games in his career—an awfully large percentage for a player who's looking to be paid like one of the best in the game.
Finally, there's the position Cook plays. Running backs such as Christian McCaffrey of the Carolina Panthers (four years, $64 million) and Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys (six years, $90 million) have hit the jackpot in recent years, but all told, the running back position has become devalued—in no small part because many of the big contracts handed to running backs of late have turned out to be boondoggles.
In July 2018, the Rams signed Todd Gurley (at the time the reigning Offensive Player of the Year) to a four-year, $60 million extension that included $45 million in guarantees. Two years later, Gurley's in Atlanta.
In March 2019, the New York Jets inked Le'Veon Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract after he sat out the season prior in Pittsburgh. His first year in the Big Apple was a disaster—he gained 789 rushing yards and ran for 3.2 yards per carry.
Handing a running back—any running back—a massive contract will as likely as not blow up in a team's face. But the Vikings don't have to roll those dice with Cook. Not yet, anyway.
Talented though Cook may be, the depth chart behind him isn't bereft of talent. Second-year pro Alexander Mattison actually averaged more yards per carry (4.6) on his 100 totes as a rookie than Cook did in 2019 (4.5). Third-year pro Mike Boone has averaged over five yards a pop in limited action over his career.
This isn't to say Cook is a worse back than Mattison or Boone. Only that the Vikings have options behind him.
There's also the matter (as Cronin reported) of the new collective bargaining agreement. Per Article 8, Section 1 (b), "A player shall not receive an accrued season for any league year in which the player is under contract to a club and in which (i) he failed to report to the club's preseason training camp."
In other words, if Cook doesn't report, he doesn't accrue a year of service toward free agency. That would make him a restricted free agent in 2021. He wouldn't be closer to a monster payday—he'd be further away.
Given that, this holdout is likely little more than posturing by Cook and his agent—an attempt to goose extra money out of the Vikings. Maybe it will work. But if it doesn't, Cook essentially has two options: take Minnesota's (lower) offer, or play out the final year of his rookie deal and hope he stays healthy and has a big season.
A lengthy holdout, however, isn't going to happen. All the Vikings have to do is call his bluff.