Updated: Aug 6, 2020
Author: Joey Spathis
Dalvin Cook, the Minnesota Viking’s standout running back, has decided to hold out on all team related activities until he receives a contract offer he believes is “reasonable”. Realistically, the contract dispute should come as a surprise to nobody. Cook becomes the latest high-profile running back attempting to utilize his leverage in order to secure an offer that he deems “reasonable”. Following an offseason in which Christian McCaffrey became the highest paid running back of all time, nobody can blame Dalvin for wanting his piece of the pie. However, as teams continue to devote more and more room on their cap sheet to a seemingly expendable and possibly unimportant position, the question remains: what is a reasonabledeal for Dalvin.
To answer that question, one must first be able to establish the player in question as “elite”. Cook is certainly elite. Since entering the NFL the former first round pick is averaging 72.6 rushing yards/game, higher than Derrick Henry, McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, Le’Veon Bell, and many other top-tier backs. Through his three year career Dalvin has established himself as a monster in the passing game, allowing him to elevate into the truly “elite” tier of running backs. Cook broke onto the scene in 2019, being one of two players to rack up 1,000 rushing yards, 10 rushing TDs, and 500 receiving yards. He also finished Top-10 in both receptions and receiving yards by a running back in 2019.
As the NFL continues to evolve, passing has become an increasingly prominent part of the modern offense. Completion percentage, attempts, and passing touchdowns are all higher in this era of the NFL than ever before. Today, one of the most common knocks on the value of running backs is their perceived expendability. As teams continue to find success through the air, the wide receiver’s perceived value continues to climb while that of the running back is steadily falling. Even the 49ers, the league's best rushing team in 2019, had three backs rush for over 600 yards, and three carry the ball 100+ times. San Francisco ended up trading their second leading rusher, Matt Breida, who had over 600 rushing yards in 2019. What did that trade yield? Only a 5th round pick. Talk about expendable. The over-saturation of running back talent combined with the direction of the league make it easier for teams to find productivity at the position, and thus less likely to invest big money to a RB. Despite all of this, Cook has proven to be a vital cog in Minnesota’s offensive machine. Quite simply, the offense is much better when Dalvin Cook is on the field and getting the ball. In 2018 the Vikings threw the ball on 64.4% of plays; the 4th most in the NFL. In 2019, the Vikings dialed it back throwing only 51.7% of plays; 29th most in the NFL. The results? In 2018 the Vikings had the 18th most efficient offense and won 8 games. The 2019 Vikings had the 10th most efficient offense, winning 10 games and a playoff berth.
The biggest knock on the perceived value of running backs and largest hurdle in determining a reasonable contract for Dalvin is unquestionably durability. Dalvin has already proven to be an injury-prone player, failing to play 16 games in any of his first three seasons and suffering a torn-left ACL in his rookie campaign. Although Dalvin does have an injury history, he does not have nearly as many touches as many other running backs did when they had been negotiating their second contracts. Through three seasons, Dalvin only has 561 total touches. To put that into perspective, through Ezekiel Elliott’s first 3 seasons he had amassed 1,003 touches. Le’Veon Bell had 799. Todd Gurley had 914 and McCaffrey has 926. While the torn ACL is scary, Cook rebounded strongly after his season ending injury in 2017 and has significantly less wear and tear on his bodies than other players of his caliber did at his age.
The Verdict:4 Years, 13.5 Mil/Year
Cook gets paid. Dalvin’s similar injury history justifies comparisons to Le’Veon, but his age and smaller career workload gives Dalvin the benefit of the doubt. Dalvin isn’t quite as talented as Zeke, but at this price he would surely be a bargain compared to Elliott’s massive $90,000,000 contract.