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What Does Derrick Henry's New Contract Mean for Dalvin Cook?

Henry became the second star running back to get a new deal this offseason, following Christian McCaffrey.

On Wednesday, Derrick Henry became the second star running back to get a new contract this offseason. Just hours before the deadline to sign franchise tagged players to new deals, the Titans inked Henry to a four-year, $50 million contract with $25.5 million guaranteed.

The price and terms of Henry's deal are very interesting, especially as they relate to the Vikings' contract discussions with their own star running back, Dalvin Cook.

Back in April, the Panthers reset the market for elite RBs by signing Christian McCaffrey to a four-year, $64 million extension. At the time, I wrote about how that deal might affect the Cook negotiations:

Whether the Vikings like it or not, the McCaffrey extension has changed things when it comes to Cook. However, it's important to note that the two situations are far from equal. McCaffrey hasn't missed a game in his career and is a unique case because of his historic production as a receiver out of the backfield. Injuries have kept Cook out of 19 games in three seasons, and while he's a good pass-catcher, he's not on McCaffrey's level in that department. McCaffrey has over 5,400 yards from scrimmage (2,900 rushing, 2,500 receiving) and 39 touchdowns in the NFL. Cook has just over 3,000 yards (2,100/900) and 19 TDs.

Since then, it was announced that Cook would be holding out until he received what he believes to be a "reasonable" offer from the Vikings. It has been reported that Cook's camp wants roughly $13 million annually on a new deal, but the Vikings' initial proposals were in the neighborhood of $8 million. That was deemed disrespectful by Cook and led him to make the decision to stay away from all team activities until the team's offer increases.

Cook knows he's not going to get McCaffrey money, but this contract for Henry is more along the lines of what he could realistically ask for. The $12.5 million average annual value (AAV) of Henry's new deal is right in the upper range of what seems possible for Cook, and it places the Titans star – who led the NFL in rushing last year – among the top five highest-paid players at the position.

So what does Henry's deal mean for Cook and the Vikings? What makes this an interesting discussion is that, just like with McCaffrey, Henry and Cook don't have a lot of similarities in their game. While the Panthers star was a unique case due to his incredible receiving production, Henry is on the exact opposite side of that spectrum.

Last year, Henry led the NFL in rushing yards with 1,540. The 2016 second-round pick out of Alabama also scored 16 rushing touchdowns, which tied with Aaron Jones for the league lead. In the playoffs, Henry ran for over 180 yards in consecutive games in upset wins over the Patriots and Ravens. However, he offers almost nothing as a receiver out of the backfield; Henry's 18 catches last season ranked 49th among NFL running backs and his 206 yards were 39th.

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Cook is somewhere in the middle of the McCaffrey-Henry spectrum. He's not as prolific of a receiver as McCaffrey, and he's not as physically dominant of a runner as Henry. But he showed last season that when he stays healthy, he can be a dynamic force in both of those areas. Cook led the league with 141.5 yards from scrimmage per game through the season's first ten weeks.

Cook reportedly wants to make top-five running back money, meaning he would need to surpass Henry's $12.5 million AAV. That seems unlikely to happen.

The biggest difference between Cook and the two running backs who have gotten huge contracts this offseason has nothing to do with their style of play on the field. It's all about health. With injuries in each of his three seasons so far, Cook has played in just 29 of a possible 48 games in his career. Compare that to McCaffrey, who has played in all 48, and Henry, who has played in 62 of a possible 64 since 2016. 

Cook's camp is likely going to use this Henry deal to try to get something similar. But the injury history is almost certainly the biggest thing stopping the Vikings from giving in to Cook's demands. 

One notable aspect about this contract for Henry is that only half of it is guaranteed. If the Vikings are going to give Cook $10-12 million AAV on an extension, they would probably want to have similar terms regarding guaranteed money so they're not locked into the entire deal if Cook were to get hurt again.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember that the Vikings have the vast majority of the leverage in negotiations with Cook. This new contract for Henry will factor into negotiations, but it's unlikely to change the team's stance or get the two sides any closer right away.

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