In a league where you’re not supposed to shell out millions to a back after his rookie deal, given that they tend to wear down in their late 20s and offenses can be designed where running backs are plug-and-play, Cook has earned his five-year, $63 million extension this season.
Le’Veon Bell got treated like ground chuck in his final season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Vikings appear to be wringing every dollar out of Cook in the first year of his contract.
It seems more fair to Cook, of course, because he got paid. And yeah, teams should maximize players early in their contracts because most of them tend to get worse as time goes on — that’s true in all sports. Twenty-five year old Dalvin Cook can tote the rock 27 times a game, as he did against the Dallas Cowboys last week. At 30, that might be how many times he carries it all season.
And we saw how the offense dipped when he left the Seattle Seahawks game with a groin injury. We know he probably would have seen the hole on the right side of the line and blown through it for a touchdown at the end of the game. We all know that Mattison didn’t.
But how do we reconcile that with the fact that the analytics crowd would have moved on from Cook and gone into the season with Mattison and Mike Boone if he would have sat out in a contract dispute?
Didn’t Kyle Shanahan create an offensive system where he can grab kids from Santa Ana Community College and Dolores Park, dress them in a San Francisco 49ers uniform and watch them run for 1,000 yards a year?
Didn’t Kubiak turn Arian Foster, an undrafted player, into a Pro Bowler?
Look, I get it. Mike Zimmer’s winning formula is to run the ball and make life easy for the defense. He’s an old-school coach who wants Rick Spielman to use draft capital on cornerbacks and extend his running backs. And Cook is a special player who seems to always make something out of nothing, bouncing off of defenders like he’s running through an obstacle course.
I’m not here to say that Mattison would replicate Cook’s production in the Vikings offense. He wouldn’t. But how about taking the load off of Cook a little?
Cook ran it 27 times against Dallas. Mattison? Once. That’s how many times Kirk Cousins did. Cousins! Cook already is over the 1,000-yard mark on the season, which is a great accomplishment. And he makes it look easy, running for almost 120 yards a game. But he’s already been hurt this year, never has played 16 games in a season and has run 201 times so far — just 49 carries short of his total from last year!
This is not sustainable. Not only does he need to make it through this season if they have any chance of making the playoffs, but he has to make it through his contract intact.
I get that football teams are hyper-focused: Win the next game, the next play, etc. It’s even moreso now when the Vikings have no margin for error. But let’s not pretend that Mattison doesn’t offer anything. He ran for 462 yards last season and has 332 yards entering the Carolina Panthers game this Sunday. He’s incredibly athletic, durable and isn’t being asked to be the primary back. He’s just an option to give Cook some reprieve.
There’s no buyer’s remorse for Cook. I’m not asking him to be bubble-wrapped. I get that any player can get hurt on any play. But Mattison is good enough to carry the ball in meaningful games, and the Vikings will need Cook at his best all season if they’re going to sneak into the playoffs.