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The Vikings' Dalvin Cook Extension is Exciting But Risky

If Cook gets injured again or sees his production falter, the Vikings might end up regretting this deal.

The Vikings signing Dalvin Cook to a five-year, $63 million contract extension is undeniably exciting. 

Cook is one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, a do-it-all star who can rip off big plays as a ballcarrier or as a receiver out of the backfield. He's got everything you look for in a back: vision, elusiveness, power, speed, you name it. Cook broke out in a big way with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns in just 14 games last season, establishing himself as a top-five player at his position.

He's also an incredibly likable guy who gives back to the community and is an important leader in the locker room. Cook was named a team captain this year and is arguably the face of the Vikings' franchise at the moment.

And now the Vikings have him under contract through the 2025 season. After months of negotiating and uncertainty, Cook is locked into a long-term deal. There's no more need for speculation about whether the Vikings would let him hit free agency and move on next offseason, or franchise tag him and allow him to walk in 2022. He's here to stay.

Like I said, that's exciting. Cook is a huge part of the Vikings' run-heavy offense, and he'll get the opportunity to continue to be a huge part of this offense – and a face of the franchise – for many years to come. 

The extension is also undeniably risky.

There's a reason this didn't happen earlier. If Cook played any other position, he probably would've had a new contract wrapped up weeks or even months ago. But he plays running back, and that means there are a lot of people out there who think the Vikings just made a huge mistake. It's a position that has become increasingly devalued, especially by the analytics community, and one where the recent history of second contracts is littered with deals that didn't work out for the teams who signed them.

Not only is Cook a running back, he's an injury-prone one. The 2017 second-round pick has played in just 29 of 48 games since entering the league. He tore his ACL as a rookie, dealt with a hamstring injury in 2018, and was slowed by multiple upper-body ailments down the stretch last year. 

By committing over $28 million in guaranteed money to Cook, the Vikings are making a major gamble on his health. If he were to get hurt over the next few seasons, the team could quickly find itself regretting this deal. Even if it's not a major injury, anything that prevents Cook from continuing to produce like an elite back could make this deal look far from ideal for the Vikings. It's happened time after time with big-money running backs in recent years.

The Vikings are hoping that this deal will be an outlier, not the norm, and they're far from the only ones making that bet. Christian McCaffrey, Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, and Joe Mixon have also all signed major contract extensions this offseason. Each and every one of those is risky, and those players have all stayed healthier than Cook so far in their careers.

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From the Vikings' perspective, this was something they really wanted to get done, even despite the reasons against it. In Gary Kubiak's run-heavy offense, Cook means more to his team than most running backs do. Even with capable backups Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone waiting in the wings, the Vikings know that the Florida State product brings a different level of playmaking ability to the field. He was injured for a huge Week 16 matchup with the Packers last year and they sorely missed his presence.

The fact that Cook does so many different things is a big reason why the Vikings feel like he brings more value than a typical back and can make this contract worthwhile.

"I consider myself today's running back, and today's running back, they require a lot – catch the football, pass block, run the football, spin out wide, run routes," Cook said earlier this offseason. "They require everything out of you, and I think this offseason, I did all that. I split out wide, I caught the football a lot. I ran plays out of the backfield, I worked on my pass protection. I did everything to ensure that Dalvin Cook's ready to go out there and help lead this team to some victories."

Cook, who caught 53 passes last year, said he feels like he could catch 75 balls this year after working extensively on that aspect of his game. He also said that he added some extra muscle this offseason to give him the best chance of playing all 16 games for the first time in his career.

"I just really got stronger, man," Cook said. "I think I put on some more muscle, and playing this position at running back, you’re asked upon to take 300 carries, 350 carries, however many times you want to touch the football, you’ve to got be able to take those hits and recover. Our bodies have got to react and get ready for the next week, and me putting on some more muscle and just getting my endurance back, I think that’s going to help me excel through this season.”

Those things all sound good in theory. Cook has said all of the right things throughout this process, maintaining that the business side of the game would take care of itself. He was right. And if he stays healthy and remains one of the NFL's elite running backs for years to come, the Vikings will happily pay him over $12.5 million per year.

But that's far from a guarantee, which is why this deal is so risky. Cook has played in three seasons and dealt with injuries in all three. He's 25 years old and now has a contract that takes him through his age-30 season. He plays a position that requires him to take a beating on nearly every play. By committing as much money to Cook as they did, the Vikings might not be able to pay other players, like franchise-tagged safety Anthony Harris.

This extension is exciting for both Cook and the Vikings, especially with it coming right before the start of a new season. 

It's also incredibly risky. 

The Vikings are betting against recent history, and only time will tell if they made the right call.

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