GREEN BAY — If Aaron Jones was contemplating a holdout this summer in hopes of leveraging a long-term contract from the Green Bay Packers — and there have been zero indications that the mild-mannered, yessir-saying star running back has any interest in such a ploy — he surely has noticed that another running back in his own division is embarking on what appears to be a pointless endeavor.
Minnesota Vikings halfback Dalvin Cook made headlines earlier this month when news broke that he was bailing on the team’s virtual offseason program and refusing to partake in any of the team’s activities going forward, including training camp — assuming it starts as scheduled in late July — until he gets a new contract.
But given the clauses that were included in the new collective bargaining agreement between the NFL Players Association and league owners, Cook’s holdout is unlikely to work. In fact, it seems it will only hurt himself if he follows through with it.
While it wasn’t the most talked-about aspect of the new CBA that was ratified by the NFLPA in March — the expansion of the playoffs and adding a 17th regular-season game were the main focus — the league included language in the new deal that puts onerous limitations on players who hold out.
Article 8, Section 1 (b) of the CBA states that “a player shall not receive an Accrued Season for any League Year in which the player is under contract to a Club and in which (i) he failed to report to the Club’s preseason training camp; or (ii) the player thereafter failed to perform his contract services for the Club for a material period of time.”
That means if Cook does not show up for camp on the mandatory reporting date, or he decides to leave the team after that date, he would not accrue the fourth season of NFL experience he needs to become an unrestricted free agent next March. Instead, Cook would be a restricted free agent after the 2020 season, a distinction that would cost him millions. He’d also be subjected to fines of $50,000 per day that, according to the letter of the law, would not be forgiven.
Cook entered the league as a second-round pick out of Florida State in 2017, and he’s set to earn a base salary of $1.3 million in the final year of his rookie contract, which was a four-year, $6.353 million deal that included a $2.76 million signing bonus and $3.514 million in guarantees.
Cook had his first 1,000-yard season last year, when he played in a career-high 14 games and rushed for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also caught 53 passes for 519 yards.
Jones was in the same draft class as Cook, taken by the Packers in the fifth round out Texas-El Paso. He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract, which was a four-year, $2.602 million deal that included a $201,937 signing bonus — the only guaranteed money in the deal.
But, Jones is actually set to earn more than Cook in 2020, having received a significant salary bump thanks to the NFL’s proven performance escalator. His new 2020 base salary is $2.133 million — or almost as much as his four-year contract as a whole was worth when he signed it.
Jones is coming off a breakout season in which he eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time (1,084), surpassed 1,500 total yards from scrimmage (1,558) and tied for the NFL lead in total touchdowns (19).
But he isn’t the only key player on the Packers roster entering the final year of his contract, as left tackle David Bakhtiari, nose tackle Kenny Clark, center Corey Linsley and cornerback Kevin King are also entering contract years in 2020.
Speaking in a Zoom video conference call with Wisconsin reporters late last month, Jones said he wasn’t worrying about being in the last year of his deal and disputed the notion that running backs have been devalued in the NFL as easily replaceable.
“Whether it’s my first year or my last year on a deal, I’m going to be just as motivated,” Jones said on May 28. “It doesn’t change just because a contract is on the line for me. I’m going to continue to work and do everything in my power. I trust my agency and the Packers.
“With that, I would love to be a lifelong Packer.”
ESPN.com later reported the Packers and Cook’s agent, Chris Cabott, have had contact talks since the team’s season-ending loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in January and that those conversations would continue.
The Packers’ decision to select Boston College running back AJ Dillon in the second round of the NFL draft in April also complicates matters for Jones, as does the impending free agency of backup running back Jamaal Williams, who is also in the last year of his deal. Williams was a 2017 fourth-round pick, going one round before Jones did.
“I bet on myself and I feel like I can play at a high level for a really long time. I’m not looking at the running back market, I’m just focused on myself,” Jones said. “I feel like I can play at a really level and elite level for a very long time, so I’m just going to do what I can and hopefully that leads to me being a Packer for life. That’s my goal.”