When the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified in March, cheers were had from all sides celebrating the avoidance of a work stoppage and the continuation of labor peace well into the 2020s.
What wasn't quite highlighted then was a change that affected a rising star's ability to leverage a new deal for himself.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook is one of those players. Cook is entering a contract year, has demonstrated a desire to stay with his current team and is willing to strike a new deal before his final season in his existing pact begins. Talks between Cook's representatives and the Vikings have been underway to attempt to achieve such an outcome, but broke down recently, leading to Cook considering threatening to hold out of training camp until he is presented with an acceptable contract offer.
We've heard this tale before. Just last year, Ezekiel Elliott spent plenty of time away from the Dallas Cowboys during their camp before a new deal finally brought him back in time for the 2019 season.
But that was under the old CBA. This current CBA seriously discourages a player from entering such a holdout, according to NFL Network's Tom Pelissero, because it can directly affect a player's ability to reach unrestricted free agency.
"The new collective bargaining agreement makes it virtually prohibitive for a player in Cook's position to actually carry out a holdout," Pelissero explained Tuesday on NFL NOW. "If Dalvin Cook does not report on the mandatory reporting date next month with his teammates, or at any point thereafter does not fulfill his contract for any material period of time, he would not accrue the fourth season he needs to become an unrestricted free agent next March. Instead, Cook would be a restricted free agent, meaning the Vikings could retain him with a first-round restricted tender worth between $4 [million] and $5 million instead of having to apply a franchise tag that would be worth roughly double that."
Pelissero has sense there is optimism on both sides a deal will get done. It would be logical for that to happen, seeing as Cook could essentially cost himself millions even after he's reached the freedom of free agency, which wouldn't be entirely free if he enters as a restricted free agent as a result of him not reporting for camp on time.
For now, though, the threat remains Cook's most powerful card left to play. The Vikings could very easily call his bluff, knowing that while he is an important player, Cook's incentive for sitting out isn't nearly what it once was. A holdout just might not be worth it anymore.
The new CBA was just the latest agreement between the players association and the league that chipped away at the ability for the NFL's youngest to leverage their way into maximum compensation. The 2011 CBA instituted a slotting system that predetermined each draft pick's salary by where they were selected in the draft, essentially ending the money-driven holdouts of old that would stretch deep into camp for some of the league's top rookies. These days, with the money already a non-issue, the greatest contractual sticking point for most rookies is offset language.
With the 2020 CBA just months into its existence, we've reached one of the first points in which new policies are directly affecting business operations. We'll see if this leads to a new deal for Cook faster than is usual.