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Happy camper: Dalvin Cook didn't consider holding out and isn't sweating lack of contract extension

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Minnesota Vikings
Sep 8, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) rushes for a touchdown against Atlanta Falcons safety Keanu Neal (22) during the first quarter at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports

If Dalvin Cook is unhappy about his contract situation with the Vikings, the running back is doing a heck of a job at hiding his displeasure. Cook, in his first comments since training camp opened, told reporters during a video conference on Friday that he never considered holding out from camp and sounded like a guy who is confident his patience soon will be rewarded.

“The Vikings and my agent are all working extremely hard, and that side is going to take care of what they’ve got to take care of,” Cook said before even fielding a question. “I’m just continuing to work my tail off and lead a young, hungry group that’s ready to go work and get this thing done for Minnesota. I love being in Minnesota.  … That side is going to take care of that side and I’m going to take care of my side. I walk into this building with a smile because I love being in Minnesota.”

Cook, one of the key pieces of the Vikings’ offense, is entering the final season of his rookie contract and is set to make only $1.3 million in 2020. He is coming off a season in which he rushed for a career-high 1,135 yards on 250 carries (a 4.5-yard average) and 13 touchdowns and caught 53 passes for 519 yards (a 9.8-yard average). Cook also ran for 94 yards on 28 carries with two touchdowns and caught three passes for 36 yards in the Vikings’ 26-20 upset victory at New Orleans in a first-round playoff game.

But as good as Cook has been during his first three seasons in Minnesota, he has struggled to stay healthy and has yet to play in all 16 games since being selected in the second round of the 2017 draft out of Florida State. Cook spoke one day after fellow 2017 draft picks George Kittle, a tight end for the 49ers, and Dion Dawkins, a left tackle for Buffalo, were rewarded with rich multi-year contracts.

Cook elected to stop taking part in the Vikings’ virtual offseason program in June because he did not have a new contract and it looked as if he might not show up for the start of training camp. The issue was that under the NFL’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement, if Cook missed the first day of camp he would forfeit a year of service time and would be a restricted, instead of unrestricted, free agent after the season. That would have made little business sense, considering it would have put the Vikings in a position to retain Cook at a very reasonable salary.

“That was never coming from me,” Cook said when asked if he considered not showing up for camp. “I love football, I love being around the guys. It’s like a stress reliever for me, just being on the field, being around the guys, being in the locker room. That never was a thought that came towards me.”

Cook, who turned 25 this week, said he isn’t surprised that he doesn’t yet have a new contract. The Vikings long have rewarded their best young players with multi-year deals during training camp, but that could be different this time because of the fact Cook plays a position at which careers are often short and because the coronavirus pandemic almost certainly will put a dent in the salary cap for next season.

“There’s been a lot going on,” Cook said. “Football has kind of been on the back burner of, ‘(Are) we going to play, (are) we not going to play?’ There’s been a lot of things that factor in. I’ve been in close contact with my agent about what’s going on and we communicate a lot. Just letting those guys take as much time as they can and get this thing worked out and get a reasonable thing done for me that I’m worth on and off the field.”

That value could be similar to the contract the Tennessee Titans gave running back Derrick Henry last month. Henry agreed to a four-year, $50 million deal that includes $25.5 million in guarantees. His per season salary will average $12.5 million, which isn’t the $16.5 million that Carolina running back Christian McCaffrey got last spring, or the $15 million that Dallas gave Ezekiel Elliott to end his training camp holdout last season. The Cook camp was believed to have entered talks with the Vikings looking for a contract comparable to what McCaffrey and Elliott got but was reportedly disappointed by what they considered a low-ball offer.

“My agent is doing all the numbers and doing all the things that he’s got to do,” Cook said when asked about Henry’s contract. “Those guys deserve what they got. I don’t ever want to compare myself to those guys. I put myself in my category of my own. Whatever my agent and the Vikings come up with, that’s reasonable enough for me on and off the field. When they come to an agreement, that’s what it’s going to be.”

The Vikings had their first full-team practice on Friday and will put the pads on Monday at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. Cook, who coach Mike Zimmer said will be  a captain this season, said he will be on the field for the workouts, including the padded practice on Monday, even if he doesn’t have a new contract.

“I for sure will be out there. Coaching, cheering, running the ball,” he said. “I’m out there full go 1000 percent. I’m trying to get better, trying to lead this young group that we’ve got. This is a hungry group and I like the locker room that we’ve got. I think we’ve got some guys that have bought in and are just ready for leadership. I think we can do something special this year.”

Cook said he hasn’t taken out any type of insurance policy, put on muscle during the offseason to help himself stay on the field and isn’t concerned that an injury might derail his attempt to get a new contract. That, of course, is assuming a new contract isn’t almost done.

“I’ve been playing football since I was 4 years old and it’s the game that I love,” he said. “I never let (myself) get into the business side to change how I look at the game. I’m going to go out there and play football and whatever comes from it I’m going to live with the results because I always put myself in position to succeed. I work extremely hard every day, you ask the guys around, I try to push the guys around me, I come into this building and give 1,000 percent at what I do. Whatever the results come from behind it, I’m not going to think about it, I’m just going to play football because that’s my job to do. I love playing this game so much and that’s all I want to do is play football. So I’m just going to live with whatever comes with it.”

As far as the possibility that Cook will play out the final season of his contract and then have the franchise tag placed on him by the Vikings, the veteran doesn’t seem too concerned. “Whatever comes behind it, I’m really not thinking that far out ahead of time,” he said. “I’ve got a full season coming up to play and I want to win a championship. I love Minnesota and it hasn’t been done here yet so I want to be the first to bring one here. That’s exactly what I’m thinking about. Holding that trophy up and doing it with this special group.”