As the Vikings start full-squad practices at training camp, Dalvin Cook remains without a contract extension. Hours before participating in the team’s first practice on Friday, the running back said he’ll be “full-go” in preparation for the season, with or without a new contract.
Cook said his agent, Zac Hiller, and the Vikings have been working hard on an extension, and Cook is content “letting those guys take as much as time as they can and get a reasonable thing done for me, what I’m worth on and off the field. I was going to be here, regardless of whatever speculation came up [that] I wasn’t coming.”
Cook, who is scheduled to hit free agency in March, said he hasn’t taken out an insurance policy to guard against an injury as he practices without a contract. He said he hasn’t thought about the possibility of heading into the season without a contract or the Vikings placing the franchise tag on him in March, adding his focus has been on getting ready for Week 1.
“I think I’m an insurance policy, me, myself,” Cook said. “I’m ready to go. I’m ready to play football. Injuries come with the game, and it’s just how you deal with them. There never was an injury I couldn’t battle back from, and it just comes with it. You’ve got to accept that. I’ve put myself, my body, in the best position to succeed this whole season.”
General Manager Rick Spielman made it clear at the combine in March the Vikings wanted to sign Cook, adding a contract could happen in the late summer when the team has often looked to extend former draft picks, such as Danielle Hunter and Stefon Diggs.
It’s possible the Vikings could agree to a deal with Cook over the weekend to make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid running backs before padded practices start Monday.
Sources have said a deal averaging around $13 million per year — in line with what the Cardinals gave David Johnson in 2018 and Jets gave Le’veon Bell last year — could get the contract done. The Titans gave 2019 NFL rushing leader Derrick Henry, who is a year and seven months older than the 25-year-old Cook, a four-year, $50 million deal this summer.
Cook demurred Friday when asked if he thought Henry’s deal set a reasonable precedent for him.
“Those guys deserve what they got; I would never want to compare myself to those guys,” he said in a videoconference with reporters. “I put myself in a category of my own. Whatever my agent and the Vikings come up with that’s reasonable enough for me on and off the field, if they can come to an agreement, that’s what it’s going to be.”
Cook decided to skip the end of the Vikings’ virtual offseason program in June, when Hiller told ESPN the running back would not report for training camp without a new contract.
Rules in the league’s new collective bargaining agreement, however, would have prevented Cook from becoming an unrestricted free agent after the season if he did not show up at the start of camp.
As the reporting day for camp approached last month, the situation got stranger. Coach Mike Zimmer said in a July 25 news conference that Cook told him he would be in camp on time. Hiller followed by issuing two statements to ESPN — one saying Cook never had the conversation with Zimmer, another denying an NFL Network report Cook had told running backs coach Kennedy Polamalu he would show up. During a July 27 KFAN appearance, Zimmer claimed he’d never made his comments about a conversation with Cook, and the team deleted that portion of Zimmer’s news conference from its website.
Nonetheless, Cook showed up for the start of camp on time.
Zimmer said again Friday he planned to make Cook a captain for the first time this season.
Cook made his first Pro Bowl last season after posting 1,135 rushing yards and 519 receiving yards, despite playing through shoulder injuries that limited him in the final weeks of the regular season. His 1,654 yards from scrimmage were the 10th-most by a Vikings player in a season, behind four seasons from Adrian Peterson, two from Chuck Foreman and one each from Robert Smith, Ted Brown and Terry Allen.
The season was also the running back’s best chance to answer the durability questions that followed him through his first two seasons.
He tore his ACL during his fourth game as a rookie and played just 18 snaps over a six-game stretch in 2018, as the Vikings tried on several occasions to get him back in at least a limited capacity from a hamstring injury.
Cook first injured his right shoulder on Dec. 2 in Seattle last year and injured his left shoulder on Dec. 15 in a win over the Chargers, leading the Vikings to sit him for their final two regular-season games against the Packers and Bears. He returned for the Vikings’ NFC wild-card game against the Saints, posting 130 yards from scrimmage and two scores in the win.