The Vikings asked one of their quarterbacks to take nearly all the reps in a training camp practice Monday. The other available quarterback didn’t even have his name sewn on the back of his jersey after signing an hour before practice. The team claimed another quarterback off waivers later in the day.
And Kirk Cousins? QB1 was at home, in timeout, after helping create a major distraction for the organization with his selfishness.
What a ridiculous, completely avoidable sideshow this has become. The Vikings held the most absurd NFL practice I’ve ever witnessed because three of their quarterbacks were absent after being placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, with all indications that they have not been vaccinated.
The depth chart was so thin that an assistant coach stepped in to take snaps during one drill.
Kudos to Mike Zimmer for publicly calling out his players who refuse to get vaccinated. The Vikings coach is exasperated and he’s not afraid to let everyone know his feelings — particularly the unvaccinated players who are putting the entire organization in a precarious position.
“I just don’t understand,” Zimmer said. “I think we can put this thing to bed if we’d all do this,” meaning get vaccinated.
Zimmer mentioned that “quite a few” of his players have not been vaccinated — but let’s be honest here, his and the organization’s frustration predominantly rests with one person: Cousins.
Zimmer might be coaching for his job this season. General Manager Rick Spielman also might need a playoff berth to convince ownership to stay the course. And their starting quarterback — the most important player on the team and the guy carrying a $31 million cap hit — seemingly won’t get vaccinated.
So, yeah, Zimmer has good reason to be mad at Cousins.
The vaccination debate has torn this country apart even more than it already was pre-pandemic, with strong opinions on both sides. Even though an army of highly intelligent doctors and scientists have devoted their lives to this cause and trying to protect people’s health, one side believes they know better.
The Vikings have educated their players on the importance of the vaccine, providing them with an abundance of information and access to medical professionals. The anti-vaxxers refuse to budge.
“Some of them just won’t do it,” Zimmer said. “I shouldn’t say it, but some of the things they read is just, whew, out there. It’s their beliefs. Whatever they have heard or read or been told. Maybe they don’t believe what Dr. Sills [Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer] and the NFL is telling them, either.”
Let’s put aside that part of the conversation for the moment — the human element and our obligation as citizens to help each other and do our best to keep others safe, which should remain the No. 1 priority.
Examine this purely from a football perspective. Zimmer admitted he expects unvaccinated players will miss games this season.
In 2020, the reaction was one of sympathy whenever an outbreak or an isolated case of positive tests sidelined players. The perspective has changed. The reaction will be frustration and anger if unvaccinated players are forced out because they have more control now. They just choose not to do what 80% or more of their teammates have done.
The Vikings are lucky this is happening during training camp. The consequences now are not as severe as if COVID-related absences were to happen during the season.
Imagine that scenario, though: Cousins or a few key players are unavailable for a game because they didn’t take the vaccine … and the Vikings lose that week.
That situation would create issues inside the locker room. NFL players share a unique brotherhood in their sacrifice and willingness to inflict damage on their bodies. The vaccination debate stirs intense emotions, and a team forced to play shorthanded because certain players refuse to get vaccinated won’t be easily brushed aside by everyone.
Zimmer said he wouldn’t be happy in that scenario, knowing that it was preventable. The tough, old-school coach is practically begging his unvaccinated players in his public comments. He sounds angry and disappointed and bewildered.
Zimmer doesn’t expect some of them to change their mind. He can’t control their decisions. He just has to deal with the mess they create.