If Dalvin Cook and the Vikings are going to get a deal done before training camp starts, one or both sides will need to make some concessions when it comes to the final number on the contract.
Recent reports are that the Vikings have yet to offer more than $10 million per year on an extension for Cook, and that their current offer might be closer to the $8 million Melvin Gordon received from the Broncos this offseason. Cook's camp, meanwhile, opened negotiations by asking for $15-16 million annually, which would put him up with Christian McCaffrey and Ezekiel Elliott as one of the highest-paid running backs in the NFL.
Given Cook's injury history and his lack of McCaffrey-level receiving production, his side knows that a deal in that range isn't realistic. But they're standing firm on asking for around $13 million – also known as the Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson range. According to ESPN's Courtney Cronin, that's an offer that Cook would "gladly take." But so far, the Vikings haven't come close to that number.
Minnesota's single-digit offers have been deemed disrespectful by Cook's representation. That led him to decide to take a stand, with Adam Schefter reporting on Monday that Cook will be holding out from all team activities until a "reasonable" deal is worked out.
There are those who argue that the Vikings shouldn't budge on their initial offer, given Cook's injuries and – maybe more importantly – the overall value of the running back position in the modern game. The Vikings certainly have the majority of the leverage in negotiations, primarily because of a provision in the new CBA that would make it a major risk for Cook to continue holding out into training camp as his camp says he will.
However, there's little reason to think the Vikings are viewing the situation that way. They value the crucial role Cook plays in their run-heavy offense. There's a star quality and explosive playmaking ability that would be missing if he isn't wearing purple in 2020. Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone are solid depth pieces, but neither has the all-around talent of Cook nor any experience as an NFL feature back. The Vikings also value Cook's work ethic, community involvement, and presence in the locker room. Lastly, they have a strong recent history of rewarding homegrown stars with contract extensions, often right before the onset of training camp.
Things have hit a snag recently, causing negotiations to stall and Cook to step away from team activities, but both sides would presumably still like to get something worked out over the next couple months.
What would a realistic, reasonable deal that would benefit everyone look like? It's safe to say that $13 million is going to be the absolute upper limit of what the number may end up being. It simply wouldn't make sense for the Vikings to go any higher than that, considering all of the factors at play. In all likelihood, Cook's camp will have to meet the Vikings somewhere in the $9-12 million range. Spotrac founder Michael Ginnitti suggested that a potential two-year, $24 million extension would be the upper limit of what the market says makes sense.
There are a lot of other technicalities that could be in play here, beyond just the exact annual salary. The Vikings may want an extension to be at least three years, so they could help account for a potential dip in the salary cap in 2021 by pushing more of the money to 2022 or beyond. How much of the extension would be conveyed in the form of a signing bonus is another important issue. Could the sides agree on something with slightly less guaranteed money but additional value based on incentives for games played or total yards?
Still, the final number is what will matter most. If the Vikings aren't willing to go over $9 or 10 million and Cook's side refuses to accept that much, things could start to get interesting (or ugly). Cook would have to decide if he wants to risk hitting restricted free agency by continuing his holdout, if he wants to seek a trade, or if he should just play the final year of his rookie deal.
In an ideal world, the two sides will figure out a compromise before training camp starts, and there won't be a fractured relationship. But at this point, that outcome is far from a sure thing.
For more on the Cook situation, check out this piece breaking down the leverage each side possesses and all of the potential ways this story could conclude.
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