After an impressive 2019 campaign, the Minnesota Vikings running back could be set to join the highest-paid players at his position this offseason.
This represents a significant discount given the level of production Cook managed throughout the 2019 campaign, where he overcame recent injury struggles to play a leading role in the Vikings securing a playoff berth.
According to multiple reports, the former second-round pick out of Florida State and Minnesota will likely be working on a possible extension this offseason. Potentially, it could be the largest contract the organization has dished out to a running back since Adrian Peterson signed a seven-year, $100 million deal in 2011.
Having attained 1,135 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns, and 519 receiving yards during the 2019 regular season, the 24-year-old goes into the potential negotiations with plenty of leverage. But there are still plenty of things for the Vikings to consider before laying out such a financial commitment.
Cook’s problems with injury are well documented, with his chest and shoulder problems this year which forced him to miss time and play certain key games at less than 100 percent. His injuries certainly hampered Minnesota’s ability to wrestle the NFC North crown away from the Green Bay Packers.
There is no disputing his full recovery from a serious knee injury, which saw Cook not only elevate his game to a new level, but also enable Kirk Cousins to thrive with play-action and single coverage downfield.
Simply put, it is clear the Vikings’ offense will only go as far as Cook takes them the way it is currently set up.
People saw during the regular season, and certainly in the divisional round playoff defeat at the San Francisco 49ers, that if a defense can shut down Minnesota’s rushing attack and force the game on Cousins, who faces an uncertain future himself despite a much-improved second season in a Vikings’ uniform, a team will have more than a good chance of beating Minnesota.
This is another strong bargaining tool for Cook, who is now considered to be the focal point of a potent Vikings offensive attack that also consists of Stefon Diggs, Adam Thielen, Irv Smith Jr., Kyle Rudolph.
The current market value for running backs is sporadic and Cook may use the recent $90 million contract given to Ezekiel Elliott by the Dallas Cowboys after a lengthy holdout, which included just over $50 million guaranteed, as a realistic benchmark to build from.
Elliott has led the NFL in rushing on two occasions, something that Cook cannot bring to the table during negotiations. But that is not to say the Minnesota running back cannot reach this goal in the future if he makes another jump in his fourth season in the league.
This alone will likely lead the Vikings running back to ask for an extension in the region of $12-15 million per year as a starting point, which would represent a significant statement of commitment to someone who has arguably become the face of the franchise over the last year, even in the presence of Cousins.
What Minnesota does not want is a situation similar to the one experienced in Dallas with Elliott, who failed to attend any workouts during the offseason which then hampered his production throughout the 2019 campaign.
With a new offensive coordinator coming in for Minnesota, whether internally or someone from outside the current coaching staff, it is paramount that Cook is around to familiarise himself with the new play-caller and avoid any complications when competitive action kicks-off in the autumn.
You also have the complex area of the Vikings’ salary cap to consider, which could have severe implications on any potential deal.
Releasing veteran players such as Xavier Rhodes, Riley Reiff, Everson Griffen, and Linval Joseph could ease this burden somewhat. But Minnesota also has to either franchise tag or extend safety Anthony Harris after an exceptional season that saw him rank second in his position group by Pro Football Focus, just ahead of teammate Harrison Smith who ranked third.
Some tough decisions await Vikings general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer in the weeks and months ahead. But giving Cook a deal worthy of his play would appear to be one of the easiest decisions if this past season is any indication and Minnesota is renowned for rewarding influential figures with large contracts, sometimes to their detriment.
Whether the negotiations will run smoothly or not remains to be seen.