Dalvin Cook might be the next running back to hold out during the regular season while agitating for a new, lucrative contract. Ezekiel Elliott did it. Melvin Gordon did it. Le’Veon Bell did it for a whole season. It wouldn't be unprecedented for Cook to miss some time in 2020.
The knee-jerk reaction from Chicago is for Cook to sit out, right? Maybe with an impasse that makes MLB and the MLBPA look close to an agreement. Cook is a good running back on a team that likes to run the ball. The Vikings would be a worse team if he were to hold out.
But the best-case scenario for the Bears is, actually, Cook to sign the contract he wants with the Vikings. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that contract would be at least equal to the $13 million per year David Johnson earns, if not more.
The Bears should want the Vikings to give him that money. Today.
Cook is a lot of things. He’s versatile. He’s tough. He’s explosive. He rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2019 while snagging 53 receptions for 519 yards.
But he’s never played a full 16-game season without getting hurt in the NFL. He averaged 4.5 yards per carry last year; 2019 third-round pick Alexander Mattison averaged 4.6 yards per carry.
Durability and replicability are the two biggest reasons why a lot of smart teams don't shell out big money to running backs. It’s why signing Cook to a long-term extension would carry a lot of risk for the Vikings. The Rams probably wish they hadn't given Todd Gurley that huge contract.
From a strictly Bears perspective, though…go ahead and guarantee upward of $30 million to a guy who has 34 carries for 86 yards (2.5 yards/attempt) in three career games against the Bears.
The Vikings, by the way, have the ninth-fewest amount of cap space in 2021 — and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what that year’s cap will look like if fans aren’t allowed (or are unwilling) to attend games in 2020. Committing a bunch of money to Cook would be an even stranger decision in These Uncertain Times.
This isn’t an argument about whether Cook deserves the money, though. He’s incredibly underpaid at just $1.3 million in the final year of his rookie contract; he rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns while catching 53 passes for 519 yards in 2019. Cook deserves a lot of money.
But running backs are, unfortunately, replaceable. Often for cheap. The Los Angeles Chargers didn’t totally miss Gordon last year. The Steelers replaced Bell with James Conner and averaged more points per game in 2018 than they did in 2017. Johnson and Gurley both declined shortly after signing lucrative contract extensions. It’s a bad time to be a running back looking to get paid.
Which is why the Bears should hope the Vikings sign Cook to, say, a four-year, $55 million contract. The best guess here is this Kubiak/Shanahan-style offense would be just fine with Mattison as the No. 1 back.
A contract extension for Cook is something the Vikings could soon regret — probably more than letting him hold out and walk in free agency. But it's something the Bears might actually celebrate.