The Dalvin Cook Contract is a Little Tricky

Dec 20, 2020; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs the ball in the fourth quarter against Chicago Bears defensive back Kyle Fuller (23) at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

One topic that has gotten lost in all the Cousins controversy has been the team’s RB1. The Dalvin Cook contract is somewhat of an issue for the Vikings.

Let’s start things off with the purple finances. Next season, Cook will come with a cap hit that just exceeds $12 million. It’s a number that will keep growing in the coming years. Paying a RB top dollar is always a controversial move. Teams justify the expense by insisting that their guy is different, a truly special talent who is different from the other great backs in the game.

It’s tempting to buy this line of reasoning with Cook. Anyone can see that he’s supremely gifted. Toss in the fact that he’s a physical runner and one of the team’s leaders and it’s easy to see why the team decided to keep him around long-term. At his best, Cook is an elite NFL player, someone who makes up for any number of deficiencies on Minnesota’s offense.

One does wonder, though, about buyer’s remorse.

His absence against the Rams was discouraging. Moreover, he missed time earlier in the season due to injury, yet another instance when he has had to be absent because of being hurt. In fact, he has missed games in every season of his NFL career. It’s a major part of the reason why the team felt compelled to spend a third-round pick on Alexander Mattison.

Speaking of Mattison, he is under contract for a mere $1.2 million next year. By no means is Mattison as good as Cook; by no means is Cook ten times better than Mattison. Therein lies the issue, folks: a RB on a rookie deal could provide 60-70% of Cook’s production at around 1/10 of the cost.

Now, it’s worth remembering the Dalvin Cook and his large contract is about more than just rushing yards. Indeed, Cook’s presence makes life easier for the other players. Defensive coordinators need to devote an unusually high amount of attention toward stopping Cook. It’s that focus that can make life so much easier for Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson/Adam Thielen/KJ Osborn, and the offensive line. It also helps Minnesota to find success off of play action.

Even still, it’s a lot of money. The prorated roster bonus makes the cap hit workable in the short-term but more difficult in the long-term. Not that they have any desire to do so, but the signing bonus ensures Dalvin Cook will be difficult to cut or trade, at least for the next couple seasons. Moving on from him this offseason would leave behind more than $9 million in dead money. The Vikings have given no indication that they want to move on, and yet it’s notable that his continued battle with injury makes life challenging for the Vikings. Big money requires big production. It’s hard to offer that production from the sideline.

Minnesota, in all likelihood, will be moving on from Zimmer very soon (reasonable minds can disagree on this issue). The new head coach will likely have a background on offense. It has been two straight head coaches who have a defensive background, and the team boasts Cook, Jefferson, Irv Smith Jr., and several young offensive linemen. It’s a desirable situation for the league’s top coaches.

Even with the contract, Dalvin Cook will likely be a major part of the Vikings team moving forward. The new head coach will therefore need to find a way to lessen his workload to maximize his availability.