A year ago, Dalvin Cook’s threat to not show up for the start of training camp might have been cause for concern around TCO Performance Center. But on Monday, when it was reported that Cook will skip the rest of the Vikings’ virtual offseason program and start of training camp unless he gets a new contract, it’s likely general manager Rick Spielman and Co., quickly brushed it off.
Why the difference?
Cook, who is set to be paid $1.3 million in the final year of his rookie contract, can thank the recently negotiated collective bargaining agreement, approved by the NFL Players Association in March, for taking away any real leverage the threat of a holdout would have given him.
Article 8, Section 1 (b) of the CBA states that “a player shall not receive an Accrued Season for any League Year in which the player is under contract to a Club and in which (i) he failed to report to the Club’s preseason training camp.”
That means if Cook does not show up for camp on the mandatory reporting date, or he decides to leave the team after that date, that he would not accrue the fourth season he needs to become an unrestricted free agent next March. Cook, instead, would be a restricted free agent after the 2020 season, giving the Vikings the ability to put a first-round tender on him that, according to NFL.com, would be worth between $4 million and $5 million. The Vikings wouldn’t have to worry about using the more-expensive franchise tag on Cook, assuming they wanted to keep him, and it’s safe to assume that no team would want to forfeit a first-round pick to sign Cook to a significant contract.
I’ve often marveled at how much the CBA has favored NFL owners and it appears things are getting worse for the players. It’s clear that stars such as Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson knew what they were talking about when they objected to a CBA that will cover the next 10 years.
Previous hold outs have had mixed results — Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott got what he wanted after skipping all of training camp last season, while Chargers running back Melvin Gordon finally returned during the regular season after not getting a new deal — but Cook’s representatives have to realize that costing their client a chance at unrestricted free agency would be foolish.
Clearly, they are hoping that threating a holdout now will result in quick action by the Vikings and land Cook something in the neighborhood of the $13 million per year that Houston running back David Johnson is set to make in 2020. Courtney Cronin of ESPN reported that the Vikings’ initial offer to Cook was below $10 million per year.
No one is doubting that Cook is underpaid. Cook, who will turn 25 on Aug. 10, rushed for 1,135 yards on 250 carries with 13 touchdowns last season and caught 53 passes for 519 yards in 14 games. Gary Kubiak, who was a senior offensive advisor for the Vikings last season and has replaced Kevin Stefanski as the team’s offensive coordinator, will rely on Cook to be a major part of his offense this season. The departure of standout wide receiver Stefon Diggs makes Cook even more important.
Working against Cook is that he has never appeared in all 16 regular-season games in any of his first three years, and he plays a position at which careers are short and replacements often aren’t that hard to find.
Nonetheless, if the NFLPA had balked at the language in Article 8, Section 1 (b), Cook might be in a position to make the Vikings sweat. Instead, you can expect that Cook will show up with his teammates on the first day of training camp, even if he hasn’t received the pay raise he wants.