With Holdout Looming, Is Dalvin Cook Worth Breaking the Bank Over?

Photo: Gregory Shamus | Credit: Getty Images

On April 13th, Christian McCaffrey became the highest paid NFL Running Back in history. Other teams with running back contracts on deck must have winced when they saw the terms. Then earlier today, Adam Schefter reported a looming contract battle between the Minnesota Vikings and their star running back, Dalvin Cook, who is ready to holdout if he doesn’t get a new deal.

McCaffrey’s production and value are hard to top. Since being drafted 8th overall out of Stanford in the 2017 draft, the Panther’s RB has nearly 3,000 rushing yards and over 2,500 receiving yards. He also holds numerous franchise records, already in his short career.

In 2019 he became part of the prestigious “1000 yards rushing and 1000 yards receiving in a single season” club. His new contract will pay him an average salary of around $16 million per season. The contract also features numerous incentives and a staggering $32 million in dead cap money.

With Alvin Kamara and Derrick Henry both set for big paydays, Vikings fans knew Dalvin Cook would get his too. Thankfully he won’t get McCaffrey money even if he is demanding it right now. But what is he worth? What should the Vikings be prepared to pay? And will it cost the job of someone else on the roster?

The Facts

The Vikings selected Dalvin Cook as the 41st overall pick in 2017. His draft also featured McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon and the aforementioned Alvin Kamara. The negative: Dalvin’s injury history. Cook has played in only 29 of the possible 48 regular season games (we’ll give a pass on Chicago Week 17 game).

Injuries happen, especially with the bruising nature of an NFL running back, but the inability to consistently stay on the field could hurt his leverage in negotiation. He has, however, come off his best season as a pro, with 1135 yards at 4.5 per carry and 13 TDs. He and McCaffery lead the “modern backs” of the league. Cook contributed 519 yards at 9.8 yards per reception last year and as per PFF:

“Among the 19 NFL backs with at least 50 total targets in 2019, Vikings veteran back Dalvin Cook ranked first in yards after the catch per reception at 11.3”

I’m a huge fan of Dalvin Cook. With him in the backfield, our offense is efficient and keeps the chains moving. When the running game in on point, Kirk Cousins is able to take advantage of downfield WR’s because opposing linebackers and safeties are forced to respect the run game first.

Cook is absolutely dangerous in space and has some of the best vision league-wide. He has an uncanny ability to get skinny between gaps and accelerate away from players. The Vikings trust him in tight, too. He ranked top-5 in 2019 for carries inside the 5-yard line (according to lineups.com).

You can’t just find Dalvin Cooks by drafting “a guy” in later rounds…

Pay Him?

According to Spotrac, Cook’s market value will be around $12 million per year and keeps him right in line with similarly rated backs. I’m a firm believer in paying a player for what they are going to achieve and not for what they’ve done. As Peyton Manning famously said when asked what he would do with the money after he signed his lucrative deal in 2004, “I’m going to earn it”.

The McCaffrey deal, by itself, makes a lot of sense to me. He’s the best player on a team with a new coach, who is overhauling the roster. The last thing Matt Rhule needs, especially with this crazy off season, is a star player to hold out. Carolina won’t compete this year or the next.

For Cook, the situation is different. $12 million will put him below McCaffrey, Ezekiel Elliot, Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson. We can thank Johnson for inflating the market all by himself! The Vikings have set up their offense to need Cook. Alexander Mattison is a capable backup, but he can’t replace Dalvin. Cook is a three-down back and rarely leaves the field.

Running backs rarely live up to the contracts they sign. Over The Cap compiled a list of the highest running back salaries. Both Le’Veon Bell and David Johnson stand out as players highly paid, who show a drop off in production after their big extensions. Other examples include Todd Gurley, LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray.


Jacksonville wisely declined not to pick up Fournette’s option, but he was a huge reach and is limited in his role. “Chef” is arguably worth more to the Vikings than any Running Back, outside of McCaffrey from the 2017 draft… and really throughout the entire NFL (especially when looking at both the running and passing game).

Bradley Spielberger & Matthew Coller break down running back contracts, including specific Dalvin Cook questions below. They go into more detail about my points above.

Draft a replacement?

Who will the Vikings take, with their 1st pick in the 2021 NFL Draft? If they need to replace Dalvin, Clemson’s Travis Etienne may be an option. Etienne stunned many by not declaring this year and will be available for selection next year. Should they “waste” a 1st round pick on a RB replacement?

Next Gen stats and PFF in particular are a vocal regarding the devaluation of the position. Their in-house WAR (Wins Above Replacement) rating aims to show a player’s production related to wins and his value to the team.

PFF is not a fan of elevating the Running Back, period. The running game does matter, however. The Top-6 teams in total rushing yards have made the playoffs in each of the past 4 seasons. As offenses incorporate college concepts to allow players creativity, the modern running back has become a significant part of most offenses.

I personally don’t like the idea of getting “a guy” later in the draft unless it’s for a specific skill. The talent gap between 1st and 4th round running backs can be just as wide as other positions. Drafting a running back early is simply chastised by those looking for “clicks and likes”.

There have been 108 Running Backs selected in the Draft from 2015 to 2019. Nine of them have been selected in the 1st round. That’s right, less than 9% of all running backs taken in the draft over the last 4 years, have been selected on Day 1.

The drop off between those selected is significant between early and later rounds. You can get production from 5th round picks like Jordan Howard but they are one-dimensional. Again… more proof that you can’t replace Dalvin Cook with a later round running back.

A high 1st or early 2nd round pick would be required, to obtain someone of equal talent… hopefully. The Vikings have a history of high running back picks and we all know how Zimmer likes his offenses to operate… so an early pick being spent on a running back, if the Vikings were to move on from Cook, would shock nobody.

The counter argument lies in the existing roster. As we know, the secondary was decimated this off season and with pricey veterans like Riley Reiff still around, it puts huge pressure on the 2020 draft class to produce immediately. NFL’s Marc Sessler released an all NFL under 25 team, recently. Not a single Viking made the list. In order to draft a replacement next year, the current draft class needs to grow and succeed.

Free Agency

The Vikings do not have a great deal of cap space heading into 2021. They also don’t overpay running backs on their 2nd contract! The free agent list of 2021 offers nothing more than rotational players and others with high milage. It’s fair to say Free Agency is not a way to replace a star at this position.

The Verdict

I’m not a fan of it but I’m going to go against everything I believe and I’m paying Dalvin Cook. This is not an easy decision and can’t be treated like a normal running back extension. Hopefully, Rick Spielman and Rob Brzezinski can work their salary cap magic. Minnesota Sports Fan’s owner and president thinks we can get Dalvin for as low as $6M in year 1 with a chance to get out after year 3… If that’s possible, where do I sign?

Thanks for reading please reach out to me on Twitter to give me your answer or talk about anything Vikings or NFL Draft related.

Lastly help support Dalvin Cook’s Work here & The Vikings Foundation here

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