Why the Vikings Were Right to Extend Dalvin Cook

Photo credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

After months of negotiations, the Minnesota Vikings and Dalvin Cook finally agreed on a brand-new, five-year contract extension that will pay him $63 million. The eleventh-hour deal will be a split decision for many here because data on running backs has tempered the willingness to pay the position.

While everyone will say that their back is different when their team signs a deal like this, that’s probably not the case with all Vikings fans and Cook. But there’s no denying that Minnesota is better off with Cook on their team than on someone else’s.

When the news that Cook would be holding out until he received a new contract surfaced in June, a graphic of the Vikings’ splits with and without Cook on the field was posted by Ben Baldwin. The Vikings offense was better in almost every metric when Cook was on the field, and with the departure of Stefon Diggs, Cook was a player that Minnesota couldn’t afford to lose.

Of course, a popular opinion among Vikings fans was that they would be in good hands with Alexander Mattison. As a cheaper alternative to Cook, Mattison was better in several metrics last season, but he didn’t have the larger sample size that Cook had. While there was a chance that Mattison could reach those levels with improvement, it was more certain that Cook would continue to produce at that level.

Think of it this way: You could go to a restaurant and get a cheeseburger, and it would probably be just fine for dinner. But you could also pay a little bit extra for some bacon on it and it would be extraordinary. That’s basically what the Vikings are doing by paying Cook.

By giving Cook the money he deserved, Minnesota is betting that there’s another level for Cook to reach. Judging by his first three years in the league, that missing piece would be staying on the field after playing in just 29 of 48 potential games. But Cook also has experienced some bad luck tearing his ACL on a non-contact play, being rushed back from a hamstring injury and falling on his shoulder after being crushed by a defensive lineman.

There’s also a human element to Cook’s deal as the Vikings simply wanted him to stay in Minnesota. They named him a captain at the beginning of the season and it felt like players on the team genuinely hoped that something would get done. Even as Cook prepared for the 2020 season, he seemed down as he spoke to the media this week and realized that one sprained ankle could force him into a one-year, $4 million contract.

By paying Cook, the Vikings maintain their reputation of paying players who do their job. By rewarding stars like Danielle Hunter and Eric Kendricks, they keep their own players happy and avoid creating tension in the locker room.

Of course, these contracts also involve plenty of money, which for a cap-strapped team like the Vikings is a major concern. Many will point out that running backs have a short shelf life. But this deal, like many that have been signed across the league, should have an out within the first couple of years. If Cook can’t stay healthy or produce, Minnesota should have a way out, thus keeping their cap flexibility alive.

There’s also the fact that several teams will now be in the same situation with their running backs, meaning if that this deal doesn’t work out, the Vikings won’t be the only team kicking themselves.

In the short term, the Vikings avoid the drama that would surround Cook not getting a contract. With a solid backup and a motivated Cook on the field, the Minnesota rushing attack should be reliable this year.

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