How Can Dalvin Cook Justify a New Contract?

Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Minnesota Vikings have crossed the big items off their to-do list this offseason — or have they? — but there’s still one thing that remains.

Although it’s not commonplace in today’s NFL, the Vikings would presumably like to get a new contract done with Dalvin Cook.

As the two sides will likely get to the negotiating table in the next couple of months, there’s a lot to digest when it comes to approximating Cook’s value. In a piece earlier this week we looked at Cook’s case and compared it with other backs around the league. The final value sat in about the $11 million range, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle.

For a state that routinely likes to bring up massive contracts and hold them to a player’s performance — think Joe Mauer or Kirk Cousins — it’s fair to ask what an $11 million running back looks like. Currently, there are just two running backs who have a cap hit of over $11 million in 2020 and four who exceed that number in annual contract average.

Name 2020 Cap Hit
Le’Veon Bell (NYJ) $15.4 million
David Johnson (HOU) $11.1 million
Name Average Annual Contract Value
Christian McCaffrey (CAR) $16.0 million
Ezekiel Elliott (DAL) $15.0 million
Le’Veon Bell (NYJ) $13.1 million
David Johnson (HOU) $13.0 million

Because NFL teams are typically looking to get younger and cheaper at positions like running back, it’s not surprising that there aren’t many to cross the $11-million-per-season threshold. What’s even more surprising is the names on this list outside of Elliott have given their franchises extreme buyers remorse.

Name Stats before extension Stats after extension
Elliott 2018 season: 304 rushes, 1,434 yards, 4.7 ypc, 6 TD

77 rec., 567 yards, 7.4 ypc, 3 TD

2019 season: 301 rushes, 1,357 yards, 4.5 ypc, 12 TD

54 rec., 420 yards, 7.8 ypc, 2 TD

Bell 2017 season: 321 rushes, 1,291 yards, 4.0 ypc, 9 TD

85 rec., 655 yards, 7.7 ypc, 2 TD

2019 season: 245 rushes, 789 yards, 3.2 ypc, 3 TD

66 rec., 461 yards, 7.0 ypc, 1 TD

Johnson 2016 season: 293 carries, 1,239 yards, 4.2 ypc, 16 TD

80 rec., 879 yards, 11.0 ypc, 4 TD

2018 season: 258 carries, 940 yards, 3.6 ypc, 7 TD

50 rec., 446 yards, 8.9 ypc, 3 TD


While two of the three backs had a drop off in their performance, there are other factors to consider.

Johnson’s big season came a season before he played in just one game for Arizona in 2017, but the Cardinals opted to sign him anyway. Bell’s second season also came after his holdout and with a different team. Meanwhile, Elliott’s situation remained the same and he still produced at the same level.

This makes the question of what Cook has to do to justify his contract even more unclear.

In a perfect world, Cook would continue to build off his career numbers from last season that included 1,135 yards and 13 TD on the ground with 53 receptions for 519 yards. Entering his age-25 season, Cook also has the benefit of being in his prime as Bell (27) and Johnson (28) signed later into their careers.

That would make Cook’s projection more like Elliott, who signed his six-year, $90 million deal entering his age-24 campaign. To add a more positive spin, Elliott’s numbers could have eclipsed his 2018 season had he not held out during training camp for a new deal.

If Cook agrees early, he won’t have to knock off rust during the first couple weeks like Elliott did in Dallas.

There are a lot of things going in Cook’s favor when it comes to duplicating his production.

First, the Vikings are keeping the same offensive system that benefitted Cook as a one-cut runner.

Second, the organization seems to have full faith that he can keep this going, which is the same thought process that pushed Dallas to giving Elliott the mega contract.

Of course, there’s the issue of Cook’s health, which has caused him to miss 17 games over the first three seasons. Although Elliott had the issue of an eight-game suspension in 2017, it was not injury-related, which means his body wasn’t torn up to the nature that Cook’s has in the first three years.

If the Vikings were to offer Cook a four-year deal, it’s possible that he could duplicate his production for two and possibly three seasons heading into his final season at age 28. Hence is the benefit of starting negotiations a year earlier than playing out the final year of a contract.

If the Vikings believe that Cook can continue his production, at least fielding a competitive offer would be a good idea. If they think the injuries are an issue, they can ride it out and see what they have on the roster before making a final decision.

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