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Outside of COVID leading many to question whether or not the NFL will have a 2020 season, the largest question looming over the Vikings this off-season has been whether or not their star running back Dalvin Cook will report at the start of camp. 

Cook started the earliest hold out in the history of the NFL which was a sign that he wouldn’t actually hold out when team activities began, or that he wouldn’t hold out for long, as the latest CBA changed how hold outs worked for players. Which ks why this wasn’t a surprise to some.

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In previous years and hold outs, players would be fined for each day/activity they missed. However, that money (which was on average in the tens of thousands) would he returned to the player once the holdout ended.

That is no longer the case and because of that (as well as Cook’s currently salary meaning that he would go through his 2020 salary before 30 days) and Cook’s super early “hold out” (which was a hold out in name only as there wasn’t anything to hold out from) makes the fact that Cook checked in at camp for his first of many COVID-19 tests no surprise. 

What we don’t know is what that means beyond his check in. He could theoretically hold out from some on-field activities, but again, he can’t afford to hold out for long and if the Vikings haven’t extended him at this point there isn’t any logic for him to hold out and force the team’s hand. 

Cook emerged in 2019 as one of the best backs in the NFL, however he didn’t make it through the entire season which was something that hurt his chances to sign the type of extension he wants. 

As a back who missed exactly 50% of his first two seasons thanks to two non-contact injuries, and that only had (just over) 1,100 yards in his breakout campaign, asking for more than Panthers once-in-a-generation back Christian McCaffrey (who clears over $16 million a season) seems ill-timed and delusional at best. 

The fact that the “run first” Vikings signed their quarterback Kirk Cousins to a massive extension before focusing on Cook is also a sign that the team perhaps believes that Cook is either going to be unrealistically expensive or that he isn’t the back of the future for the Vikings.

The combination of all the variables here make this the most NOPE situation I’ve ever seen for the Vikings in my 35 years as a Vikings fan (I turned 36 last month, taking the year 2005 off for obvious reasons). 

Cook had an amazing 2019 and while he “only” had ~ 1,100 yards on the ground (but over 1,650 yards from scrimmage), he did often times feel like the heart of the Vikings offense. 

However, for a team that has an offense predicated on running the ball and that needs a workhorse back, Cook’s injury history is a gigantic concern. Beyond that, there appears to be a gigantic rift between what and where the Vikings value Cook and what he and his agent think his value is.

The main NOPE-ness here is the conflicting reality that both sides are right. If Cook were to hit the open market he most definitely would receive the amount he wants. Executives from other NFL teams seem enamored with Cook, as one recently stated that Cook is better than the running back that was considered the best in the league until the Giants drafted Saquon Barkley in Ezekiel Elliot.

The Vikings on the other hand, who value Cook at a max of $10 million at least at the start of negotiation, which logic dictates means they expect to actually spend somewhere in the middle of that and the $14 million to $16 million that Dalvin and his agent started at. 

Considering that 2019 rushing leader Titans back Derrick Henry ended up with a four-year deal for $12.5 million per year as a back that amassed 1,540 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, and it isn’t hard to see why the Vikes believe what they do as well.

The other NOPE variable is attempting to discern what impact the newly instituted system that came to town along with one Gary Kubiak as well as his offensive line coach and run game coordinator Rick Dennison. 

Kubiak is an acolyte of Mike Shanahan who if known for one thing specifically would be known as a coach who created running backs who gained over 1,000 yards on the ground seemingly out of whole cloth. 

For example:

No Mike Shanahan coached team has ever drafted a running back in the first round. That is merely an interesting fact when you consider that he will be entering his 20th season as a head coach in 2013. But it is astounding when you realize that five of the rookie running backs he has coached have gained over 1,100 yards in their rookie seasons, including 2012 sixth round pick Alfred Morris who gained 1,613 yards and scored 13 rushing touchdowns as a rookie.”

While there were a lot of examples of Cook having that uncoachable it factor in 2019, it is hard to think that the combination of Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone wouldn’t be able to come up with 1,100 yards on the ground. Add Ameer Abdullah to the mix and the 500 yards via the air from the backfield, as well.

While it might not be as pretty, and that combination of backs might not be as efficient, you also wouldn’t have to spend $16 million a season to get there. 

That is a fact that the Vikings either know, or are resigned to. Because that trio of backs in Mattison, Boone and Abdullah couldn’t single (or triple) handedly ruin the Vikings’ season(s) each time they carry the ball. 

Imagine if the Vikings did give Cook nearly $17 million a year before they also extended Cousins this off-season. In 2021 they’d be spending $62 million on TWO players, and with the recently released agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA regarding the plans for how to mitigate COVID related losses, the Vikings could also have a 2021 salary cap of $175 million (as compared to the ~ $198 million this year, which without COVID should’ve been ~ $220 million in 2021). 

That would be nearly 40% of their cap on two players (at just over 37%). While that means a lot about the cap as well as Cousins’ deal, the reality here could mean that the Vikings would be risking their future on a back that missed 16 games across his first two seasons thanks to non-contact injuries. So, again, every time he touched the ball he could go down and that’d mean they could end up paying nearly 40% of their cap on one player. 

The reason I’ve framed this as a NOPE decision is that I wouldn’t want to be the one to make this decision. But, if I had to, I would lean towards making a reasonable offer for Cook (around $10 million) and then let him walk after the season and draft a change of pace guy in the 2021 Draft. Mattison plays a lot like Cook, and he is known to get better as games go on.

Considering the youth on defense, the new and gigantic hole left by newly opted out defensive tackle Michael Pierce, as well as the holes on the interior of the offensive line… The Vikings should have a decent enough pick in the draft as is.

With Kubiak helming the offense (for now), he and Dennison could hand pick a player that is the best fit for their system. The good news is that they wouldn’t even use a first-round pick to do so. 

For now the Vikings have Cook, who to his credit showed up to camp today despite the fact that there is the added complication that COVID brings. 

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