Another domino has fallen in the NFL running back market.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Bengals and Joe Mixon agreed to a four-year, $48 million extension that will keep him in Cincinnati through the 2024 season. Mixon becomes the third young star running back to get paid this offseason, joining Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry.
The $12 million average annual value for Mixon's new deal places him sixth in the league, behind McCaffrey ($16M), Ezekiel Elliott ($15M), Le'Veon Bell ($13.1M), David Johnson ($13M), and Henry ($12.5M).
One star back who hasn't gotten paid this offseason? The Vikings' Dalvin Cook, who is set to make just over $2 million in the final year of his rookie deal. His contract situation has been a topic of conversation all offseason long, and this extension for Mixon will undoubtedly be of interest to Cook and his agent.
According to reports from several months ago, Cook was seeking around $13 million per year on a new deal. However, the Vikings didn't offer him anything close to that, which led to Cook feeling disrespected and beginning a short-lived holdout (which was never a realistic option because of the new CBA).
Contract talks between Cook and the Vikings reached an impasse a couple weeks ago. However, it's still possible that they could resume before the season begins. The Vikings were briefly down to almost zero cap space after adding Yannick Ngakoue, but freed some up by making Riley Reiff take a pay cut.
What does Mixon's deal mean for Cook? Well, it's hard to say for sure because their situations are fairly different.
Cook was drafted 41st overall in 2017, and Mixon went seven picks later at No. 48. While Cook missed the majority of his rookie year with an ACL tear, Mixon played in 14 games and recorded over 900 yards from scrimmage. Cook dealt with some injuries again in his second year, but broke out in a big way last year with over 1,600 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns. Mixon has finished with roughly 1,400 yards from scrimmage in each of the past two seasons.
Through three seasons, here are their total numbers, with bold indicating a better number for that player:
- Cook: 29 games (of possible 48), 2,104 rushing yards, 4.6 yards per carry, 914 receiving yards, 3,018 yards from scrimmage, 19 total touchdowns
- Mixon: 44 games (of possible 48), 2,931 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 870 receiving yards, 3,801 yards from scrimmage, 21 total touchdowns
Here's the thing, though. If you look at those totals on a per-game basis, this is what you get:
- Cook: 72.6 rushing yards per game, 4.6 yards per carry, 31.6 receiving yards per game, 104.1 yards from scrimmage per game, 0.66 total touchdowns per game
- Mixon: 66.6 rushing yards per game, 4.2 yards per carry, 19.8 receiving yards, 86.4 yards from scrimmage per game, 0.48 total touchdowns per game
Cook also had a significantly more productive year in 2019, with 230 more total yards and five more touchdowns than Mixon despite playing in two fewer games. Cook is clearly the better back at his peak. But at the same time, the saying goes that "the most important ability is availability." Mixon's lack of a concerning injury history must have been a factor in negotiations that doesn't apply to Cook.
The other thing to consider is that the Bengals have a lot more cap space than the Vikings. They've got a quarterback on a rookie deal, so they can afford to spend money on their star running back. That's not the case for Minnesota with Kirk Cousins (or the Saints with Alvin Kamara – who they are apparently open to trading – and Drew Brees, for that matter).
With all of that in mind, this may not actually mean much for Cook. He wants $13 million per year, and that's understandable considering he's better than Mixon. But with his injury history and the Vikings' cap situation, it's pretty clear that the team isn't going to budge and offer him that number.
Cook just doesn't have any leverage, and this Mixon deal won't change that. Perhaps it leads the Vikings to bump up their existing offer slightly, but who knows.
It still seems like there's a solid chance Cook enters this year without a new deal and will hit free agency next offseason – unless the Vikings use the franchise tag on him. We'll just have to wait and see.
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