To Pay or Not to Pay: The Case for Extending Dalvin Cook

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - SEPTEMBER 22: Dalvin Cook #33 of the Minnesota Vikings avoids a tackle by Vontaze Burfict #55 of the Oakland Raiders during the second quarter of the game at U.S. Bank Stadium on September 22, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
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Dalvin Cook is the latest young running back in the NFL in line for a big payday. With Cook set to make only $1.3 million in the final year of his rookie deal, the former second-round pick is desiring a raise. Considering the year prior, he amassed over 1600 yards from scrimmage with 13 touchdowns. Purely looking that, you would think he has a case for the large extension. Yet, the Vikings have validity on their side as well. Cook hasn’t played a full 16 game season in his career and even missed major time his first season in league with a torn ACL. Waiting in the wings to possibly take his carries at much cheaper rates are Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone. This ultimately raises the crucial underlying question: Why does Dalvin Cook deserve a contract extension? 

All stats courtesy of pro-football-reference.com/

He’s a dynamic running back within the Vikings zone-rushing scheme.

Since Mike Zimmer has become the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, only Dalvin Cook and Adrian Peterson have individually rushed for over 1000 yards. In 2015, Peterson cleared the 1400 yard rushing mark with over 340 carries. Cook went over 1100 rushing yards in 2019 and didn’t even clear 240 rushing touches. Those two flourished in the team’s zone-rushing scheme designed for the back to see running lanes and get vertical with an incredible speed burst. Peterson had that raw, innate ability of speed and power to get to the second level.  Cook’s in-game elusiveness and acceleration make him easily one of the more dynamic rushers in the game. Having that ability within this rushing offense helps a ton, and Cook possesses that within his running style.

He can catch out the backfield.

Being a back in today’s NFL requires you to do a lot of things outside of rushing the ball. A halfback’s ability to pick up blitzes while being incorporated into the passing game are influential components as well. For Dalvin Cook, his hands as a running back have been heavily incorporated within the Vikings passing attack. He’s amassed 93 catches for 824 yards and two touchdowns the last two seasons with the Vikes. Considering Cousins relies on curls and flats to incorporate his backs and tight ends, Cook comes in handy. While he may not be a Christian McCaffery type receiving back within the league, he possesses a surehandedness at the running back position that can’t be ignored. 

His rushing performance opens up the offense.

When Dalvin Cook rushed for over 100 yards in a game last season, the Vikings were 4-1. When he ran for over 90 plus yards, the Vikings were 6-1. This all but provided an undeniable blueprint of success for Minnesota. When their Pro Bowl back was on the field running productively, they played winning football.  This showed in the play of Kirk Cousins as well at the quarterback position.  Early in the season, questions loomed about Kirk’s unwillingness to throw the football downfield. Those numbers showed tremendous uptick when Cook was running the football well, which forced the defense to bring more men in the box. When he’s out there, the allure of Cook as a dynamic runner is real, which in turn provides lighter coverage in the secondary for Cousins to navigate through.

His backup contemporaries aren’t as dynamic.

The Vikings as an organization have been gearing for the moment of compensating Cook after his rookie deal. The drafting of Alexander Mattison and Mike Boone showcases that said reality. Mattison nearly cleared 500 yards rushing on 100 carries last season as a rookie. The third-round pick possesses a sense of speed and burst as a back that Cook has too, but he isn’t the dynamo that Cook is as a back. Mattison may develop into that for the future, but as of now, Cook is the present. He’s a current player that provides an interchangeable IT factor between the tackles and on the perimeter. Without him on the field, the Vikings rushing attack slightly regressed. It’s a running game that doesn’t need hiccups with Cousins dependent on it under center.