Almost nine years to the day after they signed Adrian Peterson to a seven-year deal on the eve of their season opener, the Vikings made his successor one of the NFL’s highest-paid running backs on Saturday morning.
The Vikings agreed to a five-year, $63 million contract with Dalvin Cook, ending a long and sometimes tense set of negotiations the day before their regular season begins and ensuring the running back will spend the rest of his prime in Minnesota.
The team entered Saturday with just under $1 million of cap space, according to players association records, but sources told the Star Tribune the Vikings converted $6 million of linebacker Eric Kendricks’ $7.15 million base salary to a signing bonus to help fit Cook’s deal under the cap this season.
Cook’s average annual salary of $12.6 million makes him the sixth-highest-paid running back in the league, putting him just ahead of Derrick Henry’s new $12.5 million average but behind Alvin Kamara, who reportedly got a five-year, $75 million deal from the Saints on Saturday.
Cook got a total of $28 million guaranteed with a $15.5 million signing bonus — the largest in Vikings history for a non-quarterback, surpassing the $15 million the team gave Stefon Diggs in 2018. Cook’s bonus also is larger than any given to a running back in a recent deal other than the $21.5 million bonus the Panthers gave Christian McCaffrey earlier this year.
The structure of the deal allowed the Vikings to manage uncertainty about their 2021 cap, when they are already scheduled to have more than $190 million on their books in a year in which the financial ceiling could drop because of lost revenue from the coronavirus pandemic. Sources said Cook’s cap number is just over $5 million next season, with his signing bonus taking up $3.1 million of his cap value.
The idea of Cook getting a new deal seemed relatively simple in February, when General Manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL combine the Vikings wanted to sign Cook and could get something done late this summer. Talks dragged on, though, as the team’s cap picture and reluctance over paying an oft-injured running back collided with the former second-round pick’s chance to lock in the big payday that’s often elusive for players at his position.
Cook skipped the end of the team’s virtual offseason program in June, as his agent, Zac Hiller, suggested Cook could hold out at the start of training camp without a new deal.
He reported to camp on time in July, though, with little leverage for a holdout because of new CBA rules. He said in August he planned to play Sunday against the Packers even if he didn’t have a new deal, and at points during the negotiations, the Vikings seemed optimistic the deal was almost done, before discussions would take a turn.
On Saturday, the team released a picture of the running back wearing a big smile as he looked at the contract on the table in front of him.
Now, the Vikings head into the season knowing they can make full use of the running back who posted 1,654 yards from scrimmage last year and was named a team captain for the first time this year. How far into his deal Cook plays will depend somewhat on his durability in one of the league’s most active running games.
He played just 15 games in his first two seasons, tearing his left ACL in 2017 and missing six games in 2018 because of a hamstring injury that was aggravated when the team tried to bring him back before it was fully healed.
Last year, he played through a pair of shoulder injuries before the Vikings sat him during the final two weeks of the regular season to make sure he was healthy for the playoffs.
Cook’s 130-yard, two-TD performance in a wild-card win over the Saints provided another example of the dynamism the Vikings ultimately decided to pay for.
With business taken care of, Cook will begin his effort to deliver a return on the Vikings’ substantive investment Sunday.