Dalvin Cook is the first player this season who intends to hold out from team activities until he gets a new deal. ESPN reported the news Monday afternoon, suggesting that Cook will not report to the Vikings, virtually or otherwise, until he receives a "reasonable" deal. A second report said Cook will "absolutely not play for the Vikings in 2020 without a new deal." Is that just a hollow threat?
Holdouts are different now than they used to be. The latest collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and the players makes it harder to hold out, as any player who fails to report to training camp on-time can lose an accrued season toward free agency. In Cook's case, it means he'd be a restricted free agent next spring instead of an unrestricted free agent, effectively giving the Vikings an extra season to hold his rights at a cheap price. Also, fines incurred from holding out are binding, so Cook would be forced to give up whatever he's fined — the team can't forgive him like other teams have forgiven players for in the past.
Suffice to say, things are about to get interesting.
As every Fantasy manager who rostered him knows, Cook played outstanding football in 2019. The career-highs he notched were the by-product of his availability for 14 games, a huge accomplishment for him after missing 12 games as a rookie and five more in his second season.
But it's the worry about him missing time again that could keep the Vikings from launching millions of guaranteed dollars into Cook's bank account. And while Cook could certainly make the argument he's worth at least a price tag similar to David Johnson or Melvin Gordon (the fourth- and seventh-highest paid running backs in the NFL on a per-year average according to Over The Cap), the team might see things differently.
Alexander Mattison, the well-known backup to Cook, will be 22 years old when the season starts and is also coming off an effective season. In fact, he was either ahead of or not too far off from Cook in terms of yards per carry (Mattison at 4.6, Cook at 4.5), catch rate (Mattison at 83.3%, Cook at 84.1%), and yards after contact per attempt (Mattison at 3.22, Cook at 3.06). He might not be as established or as explosive as Cook, but he's very much as physical and certainly capable of handling the rigors of the Vikings' run game.
Everything above is working against Cook holding out for a deal that he thinks is "reasonable." But just because that's the case doesn't mean Cook won't hold out. We've seen every possible outcome for holdouts over the past two seasons, from Ezekiel Elliott ending his four days before the start of the season to Gordon holding out into the regular season to Le'Veon Bell sacrificing the whole season. You'd think Cook and his representatives have a realistic idea over what those outcomes mean for Cook —especially because missing the start of training camp means he would essentially be under the Vikings' control contractually for 2020 and 2021.
So will he really hold out and risk not getting paid for his age-25 and 26 seasons? Only he can answer that.
But we can answer when to start discounting Cook in Fantasy drafts.
- Before training camp opens: Cook should still be in contention for a pick anywhere from fifth to seventh overall. Mattison will get attention from everyone starting in Round 8, so those who take Cook should view Mattison with a Round 7 choice.
- Five days after training camp opens: If Cook is still not with the team then he should fall toward the back end of the first round. Mattison will be a must-get in Round 7 for those who draft Cook.
- Two weeks before the start of the season: If Cook is still not with the team then he's a second-round pick, perhaps closer to 24th overall than 15th. Mattison would be a must-get pick in Round 6 before the vultures on other Fantasy teams swipe him up.
If any of the above investments in Mattison scare you, then don't draft Cook. It's too risky to get Cook with one of your first two picks and not have Mattison.
There's one last wrinkle, perhaps a clincher for why you won't draft Cook: Running backs who hold out from training camp tend to get banged up more often upon their return to action, especially if they're thrown right into game action. It took Gordon a few weeks to get right when he came back from his holdout last year, and there are countless examples of running backs who held out of camp and went on to have injury-checkered seasons.
Cook's already got a documented injury history — anything that could lead to another set of games missed has to be considered when drafting him.