On the brink of Week 1, the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings gave out quite a bit of money to two players they clearly see as foundational pieces for the next few years. Running backs Alvin Kamara and Dalvin Cook got the extensions they were seeking heading into this offseason, and are probably pretty happy with how everything unfolded. Cook got nearly $30 million in guarantees, while Kamara will receive $34 million guaranteed.
It's always a good day when we're reminded that there is an agent named Damarius Bilbo. Nearly the best agent name out there. Unfortunately for Bilbo, nobody can surpass Rich Paul in that regard. His job is to make people a lot of money and his first name is Rich.
Anyway. This is not exactly how I thought the Cook situation was going to unfold, and overall this offseason has gone in the opposite direction than many would have suspected. The running back position has never been less valued in the NFL than in today's modern offenses. Teams can engineer a good enough running game through a committee approach, and while having a talented running back is obviously a positive, it is not a requirement for producing on the ground. Thus, running backs who are in the top tier but not the clear-cut best at the position have been out of luck when they're looking for big money in recent years.
That is not at all what happened this offseason. Christian McCaffrey got a huge deal, but he's the best back in the NFL, so that wasn't a huge shock. But Joe Mixon and Derrick Henry also inked big deals before today's double whammy from Kamara and Cook. Mixon received the lowest amount of guaranteed money at $10 million, but Henry, Kamara, Cook, and McCaffrey all got at least $25 million guaranteed. This is especially surprising considering recent history does not suggest giving running backs big money works out after Todd Gurley, David Johnson, and Le'Veon Bell all underperformed after getting the money they asked for.
It's tough to say if this is a shift in the landscape for NFL teams. All the players listed above are either extremely versatile or, in the case of Henry, led the league in yards on the ground last year. Kamara and McCaffrey are being paid to split time between running back and receiver, Cook the same to a lesser extent. Teams are fine ponying up for talented players, no matter what position they play.
Either way, it's a great time to be in the running back business right about now.