What does Cook want?
Dalvin Cook doesn’t want to risk an injury without getting paid like the borderline top-five running back that he is. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reports Cook is seeking a “reasonable extension”, which to Cook means $13+ million annually. That would put Cook above Melvin Gordon ($8 million annually), alongside David Johnson ($13 million annually), and below Christian McCaffrey ($16 million annually).
Can the Vikings pay Cook what he wants?
The Vikings currently have $12.3 million in effective cap space for the 2020 season per OverTheCap.com, so Minnesota has enough money to sign him to a contract this offseason if they want to, although they will have to move some money around this year and next. Overall, cap space is not a total deterrent. It’s also not a cakewalk.
Does Cook have leverage by holding out?
Cook is really good, but he has limited to zero leverage in this situation for a few reasons:
1. New clauses in the CBA.
Cook has to have four (4) accrued seasons to become an unrestricted free agent next offseason. Cook currently has three (3) accrued seasons because he has been in the league for three years. To get his fourth accrued season, Cook must show up to and participate in training camp this offseason. This is a new twist of the new CBA. Previously, a player on a rookie contract could still become an unrestricted free agent if he held out into the regular season. Not anymore. Article 8, Section 1(b) reads, “A player shall not receive an Accrued Season for any League Year in which the player is under contract to a Club and in which (i) he failed to report to the Club’s preseason training camp on that player’s mandatory reporting date; or (ii) the player thereafter failed to perform his contract services for the Club for a material period of time.” This new clause only matters if Cook really cares about the differences between being an unrestricted free agent and a restricted free agent, however. In his case, Cook probably should care about the differences. If Cook holds out into training camp and beyond (the longest he could hold out would be 10 games), then he would NOT be free to sign any contract he can get from any team next offseason. Instead, Cook would likely be handed an original round tender by the Vikings next offseason, which means there’s a chance he’d only be paid just over $2 million for the 2021 season. Not great.
2. The fines are potentially serious. (Updated)
Article 42, Section B(viii) reads, "Unexcused late reporting for or absence from preseason training camp by a player under contract signed as a Drafted or Undrafted Rookie, pursuant to Article 7, except for a player in the fifth League Year of his Rookie Contract (the option year) after his Club has exercised the Fifth-Year Option pursuant to Article 7, Section 7— fine of $40,000 per day." Cook faces $40k fines every day he misses training camp, but the Vikings could waive these fines because he's on a rookie contract. It's possible that the Vikings don't waive these fines, although most teams in the past have waived them in good faith to the player. With that said, Cook has only made $5.0 million so far in the NFL, so it's not an insignificant amount of cash to be potentially losing out on.
3. The 2021 free agent RB class is stacked.
It includes Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, Joe Mixon, Aaron Jones, Kenyan Drake, Chris Carson, James Conner, Marlon Mack, Kareem Hunt, James White, Matt Breida, Damien Williams, Tevin Coleman, Todd Gurley, Leonard Fournette, and others. If Cook waits until next offseason to sign a contract, there is a lot more competition for dollars. It’s unlikely that Cook would get the $13 million annually that he’s looking for on an open market with these backs increasing the opportunity cost of signing Cook to a huge deal. I think he’d be better off agreeing to a contract with the Vikings before the season, even if it means he doesn’t get the $13 million he’s seeking.
Will Cook actually hold out?
It's possible that he doesn't act in what most believe to be in his best interest, but I’m projecting Cook to show up for training camp and play the entire 2020 season if he’s healthy. Cook simply just has too much to lose by holding out, and there’s a decent chance that the Vikings and Cook agree to a “reasonable” contract before the season starts -- let’s say $10-11 million annually.
For fantasy football, I’m not sweating Cook as a top-five running back for now, although I may swap Cook for Alvin Kamara at RB4 overall. Alexander Mattison, however, deserves a slight bump up the rankings because there’s a slightly better chance of him hitting his RB1 ceiling, but I will be fading the youngster if his price tag gets too high following the holdout news. I’d certainly still rather have running backs like Kareem Hunt and Damien Williams over Mattison. With that said, I totally understand over-drafting Mattison if you selected Cook earlier.
Do running backs matter?
Oh, no. Not this conversation again.