With Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook entering the final year of his rookie season, the team finds itself in a predicament. Cook is coming off of a 13-touchdown regular season where he topped 100 scrimmage yards in eight of his 14 games played. In their playoff win against the New Orleans Saints, the Vikings leaned on Cook as he rushed for two touchdowns and accumulated 130 yards on 31 touches.
But Cook again missed time in 2019 and has sat out 19 of 48 career games since being drafted in 2017. His talent is undeniable, but he plays a position that the NFL treats like a revolving door in today’s game. This off-season, Minnesota will try to sign Cook to extension to secure his services beyond 2020, but at what point will the asking price be too much?
A Dalvin Cook Extension Is Far From a Guarantee
A Changing Climate
Back in the day, teams would lean on workhorse running backs that would grind out a majority of a team’s carries for years. That has changed over the years, however, as runners typically have shorter shelf-lives than their offensive counterparts. Out of the 12 rushers who topped 1,000 yards rushing in 2016, only Ezekiel Elliott and Mark Ingram repeated the feat in 2019.
While Cook grinded out his best season by far in 2019, he still slowed down in the second half of the season, failing to top 100 rushing yards in a game during the final nine games of his season. This had more to do with injuries than pure talent, but it reinforces the NFL’s mindset when it comes to running backs.
It’s not uncommon for running backs to miss a game or two every season. With such a physical position where you get hit almost every play, it’s difficult to say that Cook missing two games in 2019 problematic.
The issue comes from the fact that, as noted earlier, Cook has missed significant time every season he has played in the NFL. An ACL tear ruined his rookie season in 2017, and then a lingering hamstring injury affected him throughout the 2018 campaign. No one questioned Cook’s toughness in 2019 as he played through a shoulder injury, but he had to exit early during games in Seattle and Los Angeles in a three-game stretch. Following the second exit, the Vikings rested Cook in the season’s final two games. One of those games was against division rival Green Bay Packers and, with a chance to keeping their division title hopes alive, backup Mike Boone failed to produce on the ground as the Vikings lost.
Eventually, injuries not only keep a runner out of games but start to take a toll on their ability. Being unable to count on Cook’s, especially as a run-heavy team, may not be worth the risk of securing a high-dollar investment.
A Worthy Replacement
Even the most avid Vikings fans sometimes mistook backup running back Alexander Mattison for Dalvin Cook. While a little less explosive, Mattison, donning dreads like Cook, filled in admirably after being selected at the end of the third round in last April’s draft. Mattison carried at least 12 times in four separate games and was able to grind out 462 yards rushing on 100 carries. He also contributed to the passing game as well, catching 10 passes for 82 yards.
This isn’t to say that a transition from Cook to Mattison would be seamless. However, the drop-off would likely be minimal if the Vikings decided that Cook was asking for too much. Running backs are a dime-a-dozen, and with hefty contracts up and down the roster, giving Mattison the reigns to do slightly less on the field for significantly less money could be tempting.
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