Another year, another offseason in which a running back will hold out in hope of a contract extension and will most likely fail. Last season it was Melvin Gordon. This time? Minnesota Vikings back Dalvin Cook, who reportedly hopes to ink an extension that pays him somewhere in the neighborhood of Christian McCaffrey's $16 million annual salary-- and he doesn't plan on participating in camp if he doesn't get there. ESPN reports the Vikings offered Cook an extension with a yearly salary worth less than $10 million, and Cook's camp was not pleased with that offer:
"Negotiations have been taking place for a while. According to multiple league sources, the Vikings' initial offer was below $10 million per year, which was not deemed "reasonable" by Cook and his representatives... Sources have suggested the initial figure proposed by Cook's camp was close to the $16 million per year that Carolina's Christian McCaffrey will make on his new deal. That number has dropped in recent negotiations to under $15 million, but neither side has yet to come to an agreement. Cook won't top that and reset the market for a running back, but he still figures to earn megabucks on his next contract."- ESPN
Every single time a running back enters into public negotiations with his team while still under contract, I am reminded of this Spongebob bit:
The value of the running back has never been lower. They remain important to keep a team's offensive attack balanced, but almost no position is more replaceable. Yet time after time, running backs go up against their teams in an effort to get paid-- and usually fail.
Ezekiel Elliott is the only true success story of this decade in such a situation, and he had more leverage than almost anybody ever will. He led the league in rushing and rushing attempts two of his first three seasons, hadn't missed a game due to injury, and led the NFL in yards per game all three previous seasons heading into 2019. He was as important to the success of the Dallas Cowboys as any other individual, and so he was paid by Jerry Jones.
He is what data folks like to call a statistical outlier. McCaffrey was handed huge money this offseason, but he didn't hold out, so the circumstances aren't quite the same. The Los Angeles Chargers told Gordon to hit the road when he turned down their $10 million per season contract extension offer; he floundered on the sideline for several weeks before he trudged back to Los Angeles, played 12 games, and signed a two-year, $16 million deal with the Denver Broncos. Gordon wanted to be paid like one of the best backs in the league, the Chargers called his bluff, and he cost himself quite a bit of money in the process.
Outside of Elliott, the only recent "success" story when it comes to running backs and holding out is Le'Veon Bell, if you can really call it a success story. He got $27 million guaranteed at signing after sitting out for an entire year but earned the ire of just about everybody in the league and ended up in a suboptimal football situation as a member of the New York Jets, turning in the worst year of his career last season. If the only objective is to get the bag, he won, but the process was ugly.
Cook doesn't have the leverage of those two players, either. It makes sense he would want to negotiate a new deal coming off his healthiest professional season and one where he posted 1,000-plus yards rushing, 13 touchdowns, and was a crucial part of leading the Vikings to the second round of the playoffs. He's electric when he's healthy and clearly important to the team's success. But Cook has played in only 29 of 48 possible games over his first three seasons. He still has one year left on his contract and couldn't pull a Bell even if he was tempted; he has to complete four years of service to reach unrestricted free agency, so sitting out the 2020 season in hopes of a new contract isn't a viable alternative.
There's nothing to suggest the negotiations between Cook and Minnesota will get contentious in the way it did between Gordon and Los Angeles or Bell and Pittsburgh. The most likely scenario is that they meet somewhere in the middle (probably low teens) and keep Cook around while giving him a raise from his admittedly disproportionate $1.3 million salary given his production. But if Cook is trying to become the next running back to play hardball and win in order to reset the market, he' has another thing coming.