Vikings

Things Vikings Fans Should Be Watching in a Lost Season

Photo Credit: Derick E. Hingle (USA TODAY Sports)

I hate to admit this out loud, but I almost forgot that the Minnesota Vikings weren’t playing this week. I realize that’s easy to say in a lost season where the team is 1-5 and coming off a loss to the previously winless Atlanta Falcons, but there are still reasons to watch this team: Justin Jefferson is electric, I want to see how the young corners develop, and Harrison Smith, Adam Thielen and Eric Kendricks are still impact players.

This Sunday had enough going on, however, that it was easy to get distracted. The highly-anticipated Tennessee Titans-Pittsburgh Steelers game looked like it was going to be a dud… and then got good. We got to see Patrick Mahomes do his thing against an overmatched Denver Broncos defense. And the Arizona Cardinals win over the Seattle Seahawks is in game-of-the-year territory.

But not every week is going to be this entertaining, and you may want something to watch for in a year where the best thing the Vikings can do is lose and move up in the draft — especially now that they don’t have a second-round pick. Sure, you can just put RedZone on the big screen and mainline football’s version of a sugar rush, and I don’t blame you if you do. But if you want to narrow your focus a bit, I’ve got a few different teams and players to focus on.

The 49ers as a potential landing spot for Cousins

Here’s the thing: Do I think that John Lynch, general manager of the San Francisco 49ers, is going to ask Vikings fans what he should do about the Niners quarterback situation? No, he won’t. But it doesn’t mean you can’t make a pitch to him. Just give him a shout: @JohnLynch49ers.

Jimmy Garoppolo just handed Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots a 33-6 loss, but Jimmy G’s image benefits greatly from his association with Tom Brady, Belichick and the Pats.

There was a time where it seemed like New England made the wrong long-term move when they kept Brady and traded Garoppolo in 2017. Turns out, they were just fine. San Francisco reached the Super Bowl last year with Garoppolo at the helm, but as anyone who watched the Niners-Vikings playoff game last year remembers, the Niners’ success is all a product of Kyle Shanahan’s run-heavy offensive scheme and stout defense.

They’re essentially the team the Vikings want to be.

Shanahan was Kirk Cousins’ offensive coordinator in Washington and has high praise for the maligned quarterback. Cousins and Garoppolo are similar players, and as anyone here knows, Cousins loves a highly-structured system. It’s reasonable to think that Shanahan would like a quarterback who adheres to football’s strictures and, say, wouldn’t throw to Adam Thielen on 4th and 3 because there is a safety shading towards his side of the field.

He wants a system quarterback, and that’s what Cousins is.

The Niners are a fun team that plays in the most compelling division in football. If you want to make an air-tight case for moving off of Cousins’ contract, study up on this team. I don’t know if Lynch will hear you out, but your coworkers might.

Potential Cousins replacements

If there ever were a time to be a quarterback bigamist, this is the year. Is it ethically dubious? Sure. But everyone witnessed Cousins drop back on the first play against the Falcons, sit in a clean pocket for enough time to make a sandwich and throw a pass directly to an opposing linebacker.

Let your eyes wander a bit. We won’t judge.

Take a look at Sam Darnold. Sure, he occasionally sees ghosts, but to be fair, his coach stared at a moving taco at his introductory press conference. Everyone on the Jets is going crazy, and how do you blame them? They’re the Jets.

Maybe he’s a player who needs a change of scenery. He’s only 23, was drafted No. 3 overall two years ago and plays for a dysfunctional franchise.

For the NDSU crowd out there: How about Carson Wentz? I get that if you don’t have a connection to Fargo, you probably want nothing to do with this guy. But listen, when Chris Schad wrote his case for why Wentz will be the Vikings signal-caller in 2022, he had a bold header that read: Why Would the Eagles Get Rid of Wentz?

Now that notion seems comical. Half of Philly would drive him to the airport.

It’s a risk. But maybe a change of scenery would do him good, and he has an out-clause in his contract after 2021.

If you’re out on Darnold and Wentz, how about Ryan Fitzpatrick?

He’s heartbroken over losing his job to Tua Tagovailoa in Miami. That seems like it was the plan all along, so he should have seen it coming, but he clearly still wants to start. He’s 37, so you’re not getting a younger quarterback like Darnold or Wentz, 27, but maybe he’s still got a little magic left.

Don’t like any of these options? All good. Just watch good quarterback play, it’s fun!

Mahomes will never let you down. Joe Burrow would be great behind a better o-line, and Justin Herbert has been in some close games. Lamar Jackson plays on one of the best teams in football, and Deshaun Watson would be more acclaimed if he didn’t play on a team ravaged by Bill O’Brien’s suspect decision making.

Get out and live a little. There’s a lot of football on TV.

Teddy nostalgia

Some of you guys blanche upon hearing Teddy Bridgewater’s name because he had issues throwing deep, but the Bridgewater backers rue the day the Vikings let him go following his gruesome non-contact injury.

The Vikings deserve some credit for their aggressiveness, however. Following Bridgewater’s injury, they traded a first- and a fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford, who was good when he was healthy and playing behind a good offensive line — so, uh, briefly at the beginning of 2016.

Say what you want about Cousins, and most of it is probably fair, but they had a brief window to win with one of the best defenses in the league and the Stefon Diggs-Thielen receiver duo. They couldn’t wait on Teddy. And while it may have been prudent to go with a lower-salaried league-average quarterback, the cardinal sin with Cousins is the extension they gave him last year.

Bridgewater may be gone, but he’s worth watching on Sundays. He has a 71.0 QBR and plays in the same division as New Orleans and Tampa Bay. There may have been a scenario where Teddy remained in Minnesota and took over the reigns this year, but just because he’s not in purple doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason to watch him.

Who gets the No. 1 pick?

Nobody wants to watch bad football. My friend was trying to get me to watch Jets-Bills on Sunday, given the implications of the game on Minnesota’s chances of getting the No. 1 pick and landing you know who. But even though the stakes were high — we’re talking about Trevor Lawrence here! — “Buffalo is about to kick its sixth field goal” isn’t a great sales pitch.

If you’re following my advice here, however, you’re gonna end up watching some of these games anyways. I’ve mentioned a lot of these teams already: Herbert and the Chargers, Darnold and the Jets, Watson and the Texans, etc.

Even if you don’t want to physically watch them, at least follow along. It’s easy to pull up scores on your phone or make someone else watch the game, as I did with my roommate and the Jets-Bills game. But I’ve enjoyed watching Herbert and the Chargers, for example, even if they’ve only won two games. And what appeared to be an atrocious Eagles-Giants Thursday night game became entertaining once Daniel Jones tripped and Wentz led a late-game comeback.

There are always 100 reasons to watch football: fantasy and gambling implications, Mahomes magic, a crazy Cardinals-Seahawks game that goes into OT. There are also reasons to watch the Vikings, even in a 1-5 campaign. But in a year where you feel less joy watching them because losing helps them long-term, there are still games to be invested in.

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