When the word spread that Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry inked his new deal on Wednesday, it had widespread implications.
Henry, who won the NFL rushing title last season, would have been at the top of the list of a slew of talented running backs who will reach free agency next offseason.
Henry instead cashed in now with a four-year $50 million contract. His $12.5 million annual salary sets the price for several other elite NFL running backs who are looking for their second deals, including the Minnesota Vikings‘ Dalvin Cook.
Cook is currently threatening to hold out from all team activities until he receives a “reasonable” new contract from the Vikings as he’s set to make $1.3 million in the final year of his rookie contract. He ranks as the 42nd highest-paid running back in the league after he put up the seventh-most yards from scrimmage (1,654) last season.
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Cook’s Price Tag May Have Been Secured
Before Henry inked his deal Wednesday, Cook’s camp was swinging for the fences as Cook sees himself as the best running back in the NFL, per the Pioneer Press’ Chris Tomasson.
No, he was not looking for Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey’s $16 million a year salary, but one that’s fitting of a top-five running back in the league. The margin lied somewhere between $10 million and McCaffrey’s salary.
But after Henry’s deal, which is the fifth-largest among NFL running backs and goes against the common-held trend that you don’t pay running backs big second contracts, Cook’s contract ceiling was brought down to a reasonable plain.
Henry had more yards from scrimmage last season (1,746) and is a nightmare to tackle, forcing the missed tackles since 2016. Cook was named the most-explosive running back in the league and couples Henry’s ability to shed defenders on contact and in the open field with the finesse of McCaffrey. Cook was also named among the NFL’s most elusive running backs.
No matter who you believe is the better running back is in the eye of the beholder. Cook isn’t a pure pass-catching back like McCaffrey and he’s not a power back like Henry. He’s caught in the middle and offers the best of both running back builds, but has yet to put together a complete body of work, missing 19 games in the past three seasons.
When he’s healthy he’s proven he can produce numbers that justify a salary matching of McCaffrey’s. Cook produced the second-highest yards from scrimmage per game last season (118.1) behind only McCaffrey’s 149.5 yards per game. Cook produced more on a per-game basis than Henry and even Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, who holds the second-largest running back salary in 2020 at $15 million.
What’s Next For Cook
ESPN’s Courtney Cronin reported back in June that Cook would “gladly” take an offer of $13 million a year. But after Henry inked his deal, it’s likely Cook won’t be able to secure a larger contract then Henry.
That leaves Cook with a few options outside of accepting a deal in the ballpark of Henry. He plays, and if he can stay healthy for 16 games, proves he’s worth more than Henry. If he can’t he’ll likely entertain free agency next season, joining the loaded pool of running backs who will all be seeking second contracts. In the off-chance he holds out this season, the Vikings will likely be able to re-sign him for cheaper than they could get him this season or be able to get a first-round draft pick for him in a trade.
The NFL and players union are currently working on an option for players to opt out this season in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which is also an option Cook could choose.
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Follow Trevor Squire on Twitter: @trevordsquire