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Waiting game: Dalvin Cook remains patient as other NFL running backs get big paydays

Dalvin Cook, Dre Greenlaw
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) runs in front of San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Everywhere Dalvin Cook seems to look these days running backs are being rewarded with new contracts. Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey and Tennessee’s Derrick Henry signed deals this offseason that will pay them $16 million and $12.5 million per season, respectively. Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon will make $12 million per season after signing a four-year extension this month and Cleveland’s Kareem Hunt agreed to a two-year, $13.25 million extension this week.
Cook, meanwhile, continues to wait on a contract extension that might not be coming. Talks between his agent and the Vikings broke down last month and apparently never picked back up. So, as the Vikings get set to begin the season on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, Cook is left to play on the final season of a rookie deal that will pay him a base salary of $1.3 million.
“(I’m) not worried,” Cook said Wednesday. “I’m prepared enough to go play and just be ready to play. We’ve got a young group that I’m looking to lead and to get somewhere this season. I’m going to let the business take care of the business.”
This has been Cook’s stance since he arrived at training camp. It came after he dropped out of the Vikings’ virtual offseason program and reports indicated that he would not return to the team until he got a new contract. He disputed that after showing up on time. On one hand, you have to admire Cook for his loyalty to the Vikings. On the other, you have to wonder if a talented player like Cook is making a wise move by playing on a contract that is far under market value for a guy with his skills. (Cook almost certainly would have staged a training camp holdout, if the new Collective Bargaining Agreement didn’t call for him to lose an accrued season if he failed to show up on time.)
“If Coach Zim calls my name, I’ll be out there,” Cook said when asked if he would play Sunday without a new deal in place.
Cook, 25, is one of the most important players in the Vikings’ offense when healthy. Last season, he rushed for a career-high 1,135 yards on 250 carries with 13 touchdowns and caught 53 passes for 519 yards in 14 games. The games played also was a career high for Cook, who missed 12 in his rookie season and five more in 2018. Cook is definitely taking a chance by playing under his current contract, but he’s also gambling that he can stay healthy and cash in with a significant payday on the free agent market after the season. There also is the possibility the Vikings will use the franchise tag on him.
What had to be especially frustrating for Cook was seeing the Bengals reward Mixon, while he continues to wait. Mixon was taken with the 48th pick in the second round of the 2017 draft, seven picks after the Vikings grabbed Cook. In fact, the teams had traded those picks, enabling the Vikings to get Cook.
Mixon has played in 44 games (35 starts) over three seasons, rushing for 2,931 yards on 693 carries (an average of 4.2 yards per carry) with 17 touchdowns. He also has caught 108 passes for 807 yards (an 8.1-yard average) with four touchdowns. Cook has been limited to 29 games (28 starts), rushing for 2,104 yards on 457 carries (4.6 yards per rush) with 17 touchdowns and has caught 104 passes for 914 yards (an 8.8-yard average) with two touchdowns.
“I’ve never been a guy that you look at this guy, you look at that guy, but everybody’s human,” Cook said. “You go out and you bust your tail and you do what you’ve got to do and you expect new rewards to come behind that. I just hope the Vikings and my agent come to an agreement of a deal that values me. Until then, I’ve just got to wait my turn.”
Cook has to wonder if that turn is going to come in Minnesota. That leads to a legitimate question about how much the franchise values him both for his work on and off the field.
“Seeing it from a standpoint that I’m seeing it now, and being in negotiations and seeing it from this side, you kind of put both of them together,” he said. ” … I’m going to give it 1,000 percent on the field, every time I walk in the building, every time I’m in the community. It’s kind of the same thing. I just hope both sides come to an agreement, so they can value Dalvin Cook on and off the field.”