Dalvin Cook is the latest running back seeking a big deal – does he deserve the contract he’s seeking?

There’s trouble cooking with the Minnesota Vikings.

Cook was drafted by the Vikings in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, and after battling injuries during his first two seasons, he produced the best campaign of his young career last season, finishing with 1,135 rushing yards (10th best in the NFL amongst RBs), 81 rushing yards per game (7th best in the NFL) and 13 rushing TDs (4th best in the NFL) over 14 regular season games.

His 4.5 yards per carry was tied for 4th among running backs with at least 250 carries.

Now, he thinks it’s time to get paid.

The 24-year-old Cook is headed into the final season of his rookie contract, which paid him $6.3 million over 4 years.

Without a new deal, he’s set to make $1,331,364 in 2020.

So, does Cook deserve a new deal? Would it be wise for Minnesota to break the bank on their star running back, who has already missed 19 games in three seasons?

Recent history – and recent conversation, for that matter – doesn’t look to be in Cook’s favor.

NFL analyst Dianna Russini discussed the running back market on ESPN’s Get Up on Monday, and reiterated that general managers in the league are hesitant to pay the running back position considering the history of how some recent backs have fared post-payday.

“Whenever I talk to GMs about how they feel about the state of the running back market at this point, their health and their usage is always brought up. Guys always want to get paid for what they’ve done, not for what they can do, and that’s really the issue you run into at this point. And so in terms of going forward, the days of Ezekiel Elliot, which we saw that mega deal, and Christian McCaffrey who plays every down, you can look at that and say they are worth that money, but so many general managers in the league now feel they can really get these running backs in the draft in the third, fourth and fifth rounds.”

The Minnesota back finds himself in a similar spot as other top players in his position in recent years, such as Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell.

Bell’s holdout proved to be the most extreme, considering he sat out the entire 2018 season as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers before signing a 4-year, $52.5 million contract with the New York Jets after holding out for the entire 2018 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Elliott began to holdout prior to the 2019 season before receiving a 6-year, $90 million extension with the Dallas Cowboys before the season began.

The season prior to his new contract, the Cowboys finished 10-6 and made the playoffs. Zeke rushed for 1,434 yards and 6 TDs in 15 games. He also posted career-highs in the passing game, totaling 77 receptions for 567 yards and 3 TDs.

In the season following his big pay day, Zeke finished the season with 1,357 rushing yards and 12 TDs, alongside 54 catches for 420 yards and 2 TDs. However, the Cowboys digressed, going 8-8 and missing the playoffs.

Former Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley represents another instance in which paying a running back the big bucks seemingly backfired on an organization.

Gurley was the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Year and a First-Team All-Pro selection in 2017, after rushing for 1,305 yards and 13 TDs, and tallying 788 receiving yards and 6 TDs. Before the 2018 season, Gurley signed a 4-year, $60 million contract extension with $45 million in guarantees, making him the highest-paid running back in the NFL at the time.

That season, he was once again named First-Team All-Pro, after rushing for 1,251 yards and 17 TDs.

However, Gurley’s production dropped off significantly in 2019 – he rushed for 857 yards and 12 TDs – and just two years removed from that massive contract extension, he was released by the Rams.

Many believe that the wear-and-tear of playing the running back position dramatically affected Gurley’s ability to maintain his outstanding production, and for that reason, Max Kellerman argues that Minnesota should not extend Cook just yet – not because he doesn’t deserve it, but rather, because of the nature of the position he plays.

“The fact of the matter is, look at teams who have signed running backs to big deals in recent years where we’ve had a chance to see it play out … the running back position – particularly for an injury prone back – is not smart to pay until you absolutely have to, and until he shows that you’re really going to have to pay him, and you can’t win without him, I don’t know that they do [pay him].”

While less value has been put on the running back, seemingly more value than ever is being put on the quarterback position. Such is the case in Minnesota, considering their quarterback Kirk Cousins signed a huge extension this offseason.

Cousins, who had one year remaining on his deal, has an 18-12-1 record in 31 regular season starts with the Vikings. Last season, he posted the second-highest passer rating in a season by a Vikings QB (107.4) and finished the season 10-5, leading Minnesota to a playoff berth.

He passed for 3,603 yards, 26 TDs and only 4 INTs.

For Colin Cowherd, Cousins’ new deal makes sense simply based on how valuable quarterbacks are in the league, while he doesn’t believe that Cook deserves an extension based on the Vikings’ system and the group of running backs that can step in for Cook, including Alexander Mattison, who was a rookie out of Boise State last season.

“[Cook’s] backup Alexander Mattison averages 4.6 yards a carry. Dalvin Cook averages 4.5. And this is exactly what the Chargers got into with Melvin Gordon, is that the system they ran with the offensive line, there was not a gap between Gordon and the backups, and you just can’t pay in a salary cap league big money when there’s not a gap in talent, or performance or production … There is a movement in the NFL called ‘don’t give a running back a second contract’ … I think this league is real simple: find a superstar quarterback, protect him and find a guy that gets there’s. So I can like Dalvin Cook, I can think he’s widely underappreciated. I can like everything about him, and I can’t pay him.”

However, there is one running back who got a big second contract this offseason – Carolina Panthers superstar Christian McCaffrey.

McCaffrey was part of Cook’s 2017 draft class and through his first three seasons, and last season, McCaffrey posted 1,387 rushing yards and 15 TDs, as well as 116 catches for 1,005 yards and 4 TDs.

He totaled 43% of the Panthers offense during the season, the largest percentage of any individual player in the NFL.

Even though Cook didn’t produce on the level of McCaffrey last season – no shame in that – NFL analyst Booger McFarland believes that Cook is a key player in the Vikings’ offense, and should be viewed on the same level as Elliott and McCaffrey in terms of value.

“If you look how valuable he is to their team, and you understand what Mike Zimmer wants to do … they want to run the football. Zimmer is a defensive coach – he wants to protect his defense. That’s how they want to play football. And so if you’re going to play that way, you have to have a running back, and he is the most valuable asset to this offense outside of Kirk Cousins. With all that being said, they have to pay him.”

Last season, Cook had five 100-yard games and racked up over 20 carries eight times, including in the Viking’s postseason Wild Card victory over the New Orleans Saints.

Vikings beat reporter for ESPN Courtney Cronin expanded on how vital Cook has been to the Minnesota offense since his arrival.

Cook is the engine who makes Minnesota’s offense go. He has played 31 games in his career (including playoffs) and his production can be directly tied to the Vikings’ success over the past three seasons. Since 2017, Minnesota is 12-3 when Cook has at least 100 scrimmage yards in a game, and 6-9-1 when he has fewer than 100 yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

Cook finished 7th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 4th in rushing TDs, and according to reports, Cook isn’t looking for a record-setting deal, but a “reasonable” one.

Cook wants to “match or exceed” the $13 million per year that Texans running back David Johnson is making. Another factor in negotiations is the $16 million per year the Panthers gave to Christian McCaffrey on a four-year extension this offseason. Cook’s camp paid close attention to the McCaffrey situation and may want a deal in that range.

For Cook, the reasonable thing would be for the Vikings to cook up a delicious, new deal.

And now that the chef has turned up the heat, we’ll wait to see just how desperate Minnesota is to keep him in the kitchen.

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