Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota Vikings have been discussing a contract extension since March, with general manager Rick Spielman later suggesting a deal could be struck before the 2020 season. Things took a seemingly ominous turn on Monday night, when ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Cook will hold out from any team-related activities until he gets a "reasonable extension."
But if any Vikings fans are fretting over the threat of Cook failing to show up for "camp or beyond," they shouldn't.
If one thing's inevitable, it's this: The Vikings are going to pay Dalvin Cook a lot of money. They're probably going to make him one of the NFL's highest-paid running backs. All indications are that it's a matter of when, not if, these two sides settle their stalemate.
Cook's camp, per Schefter, feels as though the Vikings' latest contract offers demonstrate that Minnesota is a quarterback-first team, with Kirk Cousins already on a second deal that'll pay him an average of $32 million over the next three seasons. But which organization isn't a QB-first team? The ones with QBs on rookie contracts? That argument is purely a negotiation play. Cook and his representatives simply want the Vikings' star RB to be compensated at a level closer to Cousins, who's thrived playing alongside No. 33.
And guess what? The Vikings have little choice but to grant his wish.
Firstly, from a football perspective, Cook remains the centerpiece of what they do. Cousins excelled as a play-action aficionado in 2019, but that's in large part due to Cook's explosive presence and production on the ground. Then, this offseason, the Vikings doubled down on a Cook-featured offense by trading away big-play threat Stefon Diggs, drafting volume receiver Justin Jefferson and recommitting to Cousins -- every move an indication they plan to play even more of a ball-control offense, especially considering the uncertain state of a youth-ified defense.
Could the Vikings turn to 2019 third-rounder Alexander Mattison instead? Sure, but if they've been intent on inking Cook to a long-term deal for months, why would a couple million more per year completely flip the script now? There's reason for NFL teams to be wary of handing big money to any RB, let alone one who, like Cook, has missed 19 games in three years. New collective bargaining agreement rules also dictate that Cook will sacrifice an accrued NFL season if he fails to report to camp, meaning he'd be a restricted free agent -- and under the Vikings' control -- after 2020 if he does, in fact, hold out into the summer.
But all of that fails to acknowledge the Vikings' internal admiration for Cook. Aside from being one of the two most important pieces of an offense built around the running game, Cook is also very well liked throughout the building. Team officials gushed about his off-field work during the pandemic, and his quiet demeanor both on the field and in public is a welcome contrast to, say, that of Diggs.
Speaking of Diggs, Spielman and Co. are still fresh off their reluctant auction of the star receiver. Even with contractual leverage on their side in talks with Cook, one of the last things they want to do is alienate another young, homegrown talent. And while Cook's absence may very well extend into July, he's already made it clear he wants to be in Minnesota for the long term.
When push comes to shove, Cook's injury history will assuredly be the biggest hurdle for his party in contract talks. Durability concerns alone could keep him from resetting the market or even matching Christian McCaffrey's record $16M-per-year deal with the Carolina Panthers. But the Vikings' reported initial offer of less than $10M per year won't get it done. A fair, ultimate expectation is something like a four-year, $54M agreement ($13.5M per season), which would make Cook a top-three RB in terms of annual salary, just behind fellow 24-year-olds McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott, and just ahead of veterans like Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson.
Regardless of the financials, though, both sides want the same thing: Cook to remain with the Vikings. The clock is ticking only on what kind of compromise they'll find to make it happen.