Earlier this afternoon, Adam Schefter dropped the bombshell that the Carolina Panthers extended start running back Christian McCaffrey to a 4 year, 64 million dollar contract. At 16 million dollars per season, McCaffrey becomes the highest-paid running back in the history of the National Football League. In an era where the running back has been devalued more than ever before, this extension might feel like a surprise to some people. Simply put, it shouldn’t.
McCaffrey isn’t just a running back. He is a truly versatile weapon. After just three seasons in the national football league, McCaffrey has 303 receptions and is the first running back in the history of the league to have two 100 catch seasons and he did it in back-to-back seasons. His accolades after only three seasons are truly remarkable.
Not only are his stats much different than the average running back, but how the Panthers use him is different as well. They have no problem getting creative and lining him out wide whether it be against a linebacker or a defensive back, as seen below in two separate plays.
McCaffrey is a versatile weapon whose main position is running back. While most are going to spend their time quantifying this as a running back signing, it just isn’t. Even with all of this, 16 million dollars a year resets the running back market. Most notably, how does it impact the potential Dalvin Cook extension with the Minnesota Vikings?
Re-signing Dalvin Cook is a very complicated issue. While Cook has missed significant time with a torn ACL, hamstring and shoulder injuries, his impact when healthy has been that of a top back in the National Football League. The Vikings understand that and Rick Spielman has emphasized the desire to keep Cook.
Let’s face facts Vikings fans: whether you like it or not, Spielman is going to sign Cook to a big-money extension and McCaffrey getting paid only makes the price go up. The question that we all have is: how much are you willing to pay Cook on an extension? You’ll see a lot of fans throw around 8 million dollars (what the Atlanta Falcons paid Devonta Freeman before the 2017 season) and I don’t think anyone would be upset with that contract. It isn’t likely however that Cook would take that big of a discount. One element that the Vikings have over other teams is a history of players taking less to stick around. Starting with Harrison Smith and more recently with Anthon Barr, the core players on the Vikings have taken upwards of a few million dollars less per season, including Danielle Hunter making 14.2 on average when the top edge rushers are making over 20 million per season. This is a testament to the culture Mike Zimmer has built.
Regardless of what contract Cook signs, will he be deserving of the big money deal? What McCaffrey brings to the table is so much different than any running back who has gotten a big payday over the past few seasons. He is more of a Percy Harvin type player who carries a heavy workload. The Vikings have not asked Cook to play the receiver position, so his contract will be compared to other running backs. Here are the recent big money contracts handed out:
Devonta Freeman: 5 years/41.25 million
Todd Gurley: 4 years/60 million
Ezekiel Elliott: 6 years/90 million
LeVeon Bell: 4 years/52.5 million
David Johnson: 3 years/39 million
The above contracts are what worries us as fans. To this day, none of these have worked out in favor of their respective teams. Pair that with Cook’s injury history, where he has missed 19 of a possible 48 games, and it is scary.
After all is said and done, I doubt you would find one Vikings fan that would tell you Dalvin Cook doesn’t help the team win football games. In fact, I’m pretty sure they would say he is one of the best players on the team. Will Spielman be able to convince Cook to do the same? Even though it feels inevitable that Cook gets extended, we will be waiting a while for it, as most of the players the Vikings have extended have happened before and during training camp.
Prediction: 4 years/54 million with 25 million fully guaranteed.