Why the release of Todd Gurley is bad news for Dalvin Cook

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Dalvin Cook
(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images) Dalvin Cook /

The Minnesota Vikings running back is vying for a new deal this offseason, but the recent release of Todd Gurley could compromise his leverage.

As the Minnesota Vikings try to play financial gymnastics for the second straight offseason, one of their priorities seems to be retaining Dalvin Cook.

Cook is in the final year of his rookie contract, but in the wake of the Le’Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon situations, running backs rarely fulfill each year of their first contract.

With moves such as extending Kirk Cousins, trading Stefon Diggs, and releasing Josh Kline, the Vikings appear to be headed in this direction. But there’s a sense that they also need to proceed with caution.

Running backs have a shorter shelf life than the average player. Whereas 30-years-old seemed to be the age when teams would dispose of their ball carriers in the past, a wave of younger, quicker and cheaper athletes have made the running back position more interchangeable.

This means teams are less likely to pour a ton of money into the position as analytics guru Warren Sharp recently noted.

The latest example of a running back getting the “Old Yeller” treatment went down in Los Angeles on Thursday when the Rams released Todd Gurley. It was just two years ago when Gurley signed a four-year, $57.5 million deal, but a series of injuries helped lead to his release at the ripe age of 25.

In the same amount of time, the Rams also saw other running backs have success while Gurley dealt with his arthritic knee.

C.J. Anderson was picked up off the street late in the 2018 season and he ran for 488 yards and four touchdowns while averaging 5.6 yards per carry in Los Angeles’ final five games including playoffs. For the record, Gurley has averaged 4.3 yards per carry in his five-year career.

Even outside of Los Angeles, the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs met in the Super Bowl with a pair of undrafted free agents in their offensive backfield. Both Raheem Mostert and Damien Williams helped carry their teams down the stretch and with little money invested, both front offices looked brilliant opting to focus their needs on more important positions.

That philosophy didn’t carry over to the Dallas Cowboys, where they paid Ezekiel Elliott a six-year deal worth $90 million. In Cook’s case, Elliott’s contract should represent the high asking price at the table, but it also isn’t realistic considering that money could have been used to lock up quarterback Dak Prescott.

For the Vikings, that means getting a high-profile offensive lineman or even a sufficient cornerback to ease the mass exodus that’s on the roster right now. If Minnesota decides to pay Cook a deal close to what Elliott or Gurley received, odds are they could be the next team with egg on their face in a couple of years. This is even truer considering Cook’s lengthy injury history.

This isn’t an indictment to say the Vikings absolutely shouldn’t sign Cook either. He’s one of the top running backs in the game right now and if they could come to an agreement on a three-year deal at about $9 million per year, it wouldn’t break the bank.

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But with a viable replacement in Alexander Mattison waiting, Minnesota should at least tread lightly with their top running back.