Ignore the Nerds. Extending Dalvin Cook Was Smart.

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The Minnesota Vikings and Dalvin Cook ended months of consternation over his contract today, when they agreed to a $63 million extension that included $28 million guaranteed.

To get the deal done, the Vikings had to find money they didn’t have available under the 2020 salary cap. Spielman and Brzezinski found it in Eric Kendricks’ contract. After getting the go ahead from Zygi, they pulled $6 million cash from their reserve funds, and wired it to Kendricks.

Eric Kendricks: Big Fan of New Cook Deal

Eric gets his money now, but by transforming those future dollars into instant cash (in the form of a signing bonus), the Vikings can now spread that money out on paper, over a few years. In other words, Eric Kendricks is $6M richer today, thanks to Dalvin Cook. Sure, that money would have come eventually… but you always take the lump sum, when offered.

In fact, this is the second season in a row where the Vikings have done this with Kendricks’ contract. Clearly this team expects Eric to lead their defense for the foreseeable future. You can’t cut a guy to save money if you already paid him…

This is the type of thing that makes Rob Brzezinski one of the best capologists in the business. The Vikings are lucky to have him.

Recent History Hates Running Backs

No matter how Rob fudges the numbers, extending Cook doesn’t come without risk. Recent history hates the running back position. Any team that has signed a RB to a large contract in the last few offseasons, has almost immediately regretted it.

You can look at Melvin Gordon in LA (formerly), David Johnson in Arizona (formerly) or Ezekiel Elliott in Dallas.

Nerds Also Hate Running Backs

It’s not just recent history that hates running backs, though. Analytics-driven outlets and analytics-driven people hate them, too. Why? When offenses are operating in a lab, with no variables, passing moves the ball down the field more efficiently and effectively.

I can’t explain their hatred any better than this little blip out a Pro Football Focus (THE football analytics website) article that dropped after the Cook and Kamara deals were signed today. The authors try to give both teams the benefit of the doubt, but they just can’t do it without including a bunch of (this won’t work) in parenthesis.

For better or worse (our money is on worse), both the Vikings and the Saints can now fully turn their attention toward Sunday. Each team had a saga with a pass-rusher late in the offseason (the Vikings successfully traded for Yannick Ngakoue; the Saints could have “traded” for Jadeveon Clowney if not for the NFL rules). And while these deals almost never work out for the team that signs them, both Minnesota and New Orleans are making a bet that these two will be different, hoping that their receiving adds more value than the average running back’s does (not very much), that perturbations to offensive line play won’t dampen the difference between these two players and replacement players at the position (doubtful) and that game scripts won’t do more to dictate the volume each player receives than his actual talent does.

Brad Spielberger and Eric Eager – PFF

Signing Dalvin Cook Was the Right Move

I don’t care what the history or the analytics say, about signing running backs to long-term deals. For the Minnesota Vikings, it was the best move they had on the table, when it comes to building the best possible offense.

While passing the ball (and focusing on weapons for that part of the offense) might be what works best on Madden or in computer simulations, it’s not always the best option for real-life teams. If snagging a top-5 QB and surrounding him with a bunch of weapons was easy, the Vikings’ would have had their elite franchise QB long before Kirk Cousins. Hell, the Packers and Patriots might have put some weapons around Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady throughout the duration of their careers.

Building a high-powered offense isn’t that easy, though. Minnesota took a chance on Dalvin Cook in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, where it’s much more difficult to find game-breaking skill-position players. They hit on their gamble. That’s something to celebrate.

After drafting Cook and making the NFCCG without him, the Vikings moved on the best QB available that offseason, in Kirk Cousins. Since, they’ve done their best to grow and acquire an abundance of offensive talent to surround him with.

The Vikings Tried “Modern”…

They succeeded. Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs became one of the top receiving duos in the league, with Cousins throwing to them. Kyle Rudolph has been a rock for this team and a suitable tight end in the NFL for a decade. The Vikings even tried to go with a “new-age” playcaller after that 2017 NFCCG run, and hired John DeFilippo before the 2018 season. He was tasked with transforming the offense into the 22nd century. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

No matter how hard The Minnesota Vikings tried to “change with the times”, winning came with running the ball. DeFilippo was fired before the end of the 2018 season and the offense has revolved around Dalvin Cook ever since.

2019 Was Better.

Cook lead the offense in 2019 and stayed healthy, racking up 1700 total yards and 17 touchdowns. As a result, the Vikings won a playoff game and Kirk Cousins proved some of his haters wrong. Then, Stefon Diggs got Diva Fever and forced his way out of town during the offseason.

At that point, what options did the Vikings have? The offense had already proven much more effective with Dalvin Cook as the ringleader. Now, one half of your top receiving duo, is gone.

Luckily, they chose to build around Dalvin Cook and not worry about what the analytics said to do. Because of that, the Vikings are entering the 2020 season tomorrow at Noon against the Green Bay Packers, with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.

Dumb Nerds

So let the football nerds scream about their computer programs while the rest of us logically look at the total picture, as it is presented in real life. The Minnesota Vikings have created one of the best teams in football. They’ve done that by strategically playing the cards they were dealt, while showing flexibility throughout the process.

Spielman is known for his love of analytics and of course they know what the computers say about relying on running backs… but the game doesn’t play out on an operating system. The Vikings needed Dalvin Cook to be successful. They knew it and they paid him because of it.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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