Why Dalvin Cook's Contract Negotiations Never Turned Sour

Photo credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

In the NFL, the word “holdout” can be a bit of a dirty word. It evokes images of Le’Veon Bell throwing money away by the barrel, or Eric Dickerson‘s grudge against the Los Angeles Rams. To this day he still gets a pot-shot in every once in a while. It can get ugly.

So a little trepidation was to be expected when Dalvin Cook began a holdout for a new extension back in May. But this holdout didn’t go sour like Earl Thomas‘s or Emmitt Smith‘s. Thanks to a combination of good faith, good team culture and a unique negotiating environment, Cook got his extension and couldn’t be happier about it.

The deal extends Cook for five years, $63 million ($12.6 per year average), and locks him in Minnesota through the 2025 season. The details aren’t public quite yet, but we can surmise that the majority of the money kicks in after this season. The Vikings have almost no cap space to spare after trading for Yannick Ngakoue back in August. With 2021 a possibly cap-strapped year thanks to revenue drops caused by COVID-19, Cook’s real money may not kick in until 2022.

The nitty-gritty contract details are one thing, but the negotiation itself can be a deeply personal and emotional process. It necessarily puts a dollar value on a person with desires, likes, dislikes and principles. So to get a sense for how these things play out firsthand, I brought Cook’s agent, Zac Hiller, onto the Locked On Vikings podcast.

“We were always confident [that a deal would get done],” Hiller said. “The front office there at the Vikings, they’re excellent to work with. They obviously understood Dalvin’s love for Minnesota and football, and I think both sides were confident that ultimately we’d come to an agreement and that Dalvin could do what he loves to do for the team that he always wanted to be a part of.”

It sounds like a platitude, but it came after an offseason that featured the loss of several key defenders — including Mackensie Alexander and Jayron Kearse — who made it clear he did not want to be in Minnesota anymore. Not to mention Stefon Diggs, the star wide receiver whose discontent was so public it created a trade market by itself. So hearing that sort of endorsement from a player representative is meaningful.

The Vikings never expressed much displeasure with the holdout. Throughout the process, they praised Cook on and off the field, and even declared him a 2020 team captain. In a reciprocation of that good faith, Cook ended his holdout before any mandatory activity was missed. After some light confusion, Cook showed up to camp, participated as instructed and was fully prepared to play out 2020 in his contract year. It didn’t come to that, but even if it had, this contract negotiation would have had a much different color than the debacles of Smith or Bell.

“Since [Cook] got here, he fell in love with the teammates he’s been around,” Hiller said. “He fell in love with, since it’s been built, TCO [Performance Center]. I mean [running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu], I mean [Mike Zimmer], the front office, everyone there, that was super important to him. He never wanted to go anywhere else, he wasn’t gonna play anywhere else.”

The Vikings have built a well-documented culture that often pays dividends. From Kirk Cousins spurning the Jets to play here for less to Anthony Barr spurning the Jets to play here for less, not to mention Riley Reiff being the latest in a long line of team-friendly pay cuts, the Vikings have often extracted value from their players’ contentedness.

It’s a multi-faceted effect. A healthy locker room, a beloved coach and a low-ego front office negotiating in good faith all foster that culture. In turn, that culture convinces players to gravitate toward Minnesota, and makes them want to stay in Minnesota.

Take it from Cook himself:

“Being in Minnesota as long as I can, that was important to me. I think everybody came to an agreement and we got that thing done.”

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