There are a lot of “2020 BINGO” cards floating around out there, with folks checking off things like a pandemic, murder hornets and natural disasters as they play along at home. Similarly, if you have a Minnesota Vikings Disaster BINGO card, chances are you already have a coverall as the team enters its bye week fresh off a pathetic loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
So, now what? What do the Vikings do with the rest of this lost 2020 season?
Before you scream, “Fire Mike Zimmer, bench Kirk Cousins and Tank for Trevor!” I’d like to invite you to take a large gulp of this thing called reality. It’s a harsh cocktail that tastes like a mixture of despair and hot dog water, but if you slam it fast and chase it with a beer, you’ll be fine.
The reality is if the Vikings were going to fire Zimmer, he’d probably have been notified Monday. That didn’t happen. A lot of coaches in his shoes might have been let go, but Zimmer has accumulated just enough of a cache of success to weather this storm… so far. He might be week-to-week at this point. As for Cousins… sorry, Vikings fans, but given the alternatives, you might be stuck with him for quite a while longer. Bench Cousins for Sean Mannion and those same people calling for Cousins to be benched will be quickly calling for him to come back into the game. Mannion is on the roster in case Cousins gets injured and that’s about it.
As for the Tank Truthers out there, I’ve already addressed this, but it bears repeating: Zimmer isn’t tanking; he’s fighting for his job. Ditto for Rick Spielman. The players aren’t tanking either; they’re fighting for their livelihood. Tankamania is runnin’ wild in the Twin Cities, but you’re going to need to un-tether yourself from that conviction and get over the pants feelings you’ve developed for Trevor Lawrence. Even if they don’t “tank,” the Vikings probably have a better shot of making the playoffs than of finishing with the worst record in the NFL this season. Have you seen the New York Jets play football?
Now that you’ve taken a healthy swig of reality, let’s get serious. If the Vikings’ goal is to rebuild or reload on the fly rather than tearing it all down and starting over with new people in charge, they should have some specific priorities between now and the end of the season. Allow me to suggest four.
EXPLORE ALL POTENTIAL TRADES
It’s a date that’s been circled for months — Nov. 3 is more important for other reasons, but it’s also the NFL Trade Deadline. The Vikings should most definitely be sellers at this year’s deadline, and Spielman should be laying the groundwork already. Whether there will be any buyers is another question.
Who’s on the table? Just about everyone not named Justin Jefferson.
An in-season Cousins trade isn’t going to happen. He makes way too much money. More on that in a bit. Beyond him, the Vikings should be dangling Riley Reiff, Yannick Ngakoue, Anthony Harris, and any other veteran with a significant salary who might net something decent in return (read: draft picks). Anthony Barr — were he not injured — would be on top of this list. Some are even suggesting Harrison Smith as a trade chip. I can’t see that happening, but nothing can be ruled out. Every other team should be on the receiving end of phone calls from Spielman’s office.
In the end, the Vikings might not be able to pull the trigger on any blockbuster trades, but they should be uncovering every stone between now and Nov. 3 just in case there’s a deal to be made.
SEE WHAT THE YOUNG PLAYERS HAVE
I don’t see Zimmer making wholesale lineup alterations and leaving vets on the pine in tank-like fashion, but a youth movement needs to occur for evaluation purposes.
Among certain units (namely, the offensive line and cornerback) they might not have much choice. To the extent that they can do so, it’s time to let the kids play in the deep end of the pool and learn how to swim. And if they can’t, at least you have that data as you enter an offseason that should prove very consequential for this franchise.
If they are healthy enough to play, Jeff Gladney, Mike Hughes and Cameron Dantzler should be getting all the possible snaps. The same goes for Irv Smith Jr., Oli Udoh, Ezra Cleveland and (soon) Troy Dye.
USE ABUNDANT CAUTION WITH INJURED STARS
At the moment, this really only applies to two players. More can be included down the line as necessary.
Danielle Hunter shouldn’t play a snap this season. It’s unfortunate to suggest this, but it’s not worth risking a young cornerstone during a pointless season. There are reports that doctors are advising him not to play anyway because of his neck injury, so it might be a moot point. Use extreme caution because this just in: Necks are nothing to mess with. And if doctors leave him with no choice but to sit out, a serious assessment of his NFL future needs to be made. [Insert sad face emoji here]
Dalvin Cook’s groin injury, while nowhere near as disconcerting as Hunter’s neck injury, should also be allowed to fully heal. Unfortunately, with so many jobs on the line, Cook will likely be back on the field as soon as he’s cleared – perhaps as soon as Week 8 against the Packers. Might I suggest (as if anyone is listening) that he doesn’t get 30 touches his first game back? Given the lucrative extension he received, Cook needs to be as healthy as possible for as many games as possible starting in 2021. There’s no need to over-work him now.
DEVELOP A KIRK COUSINS EXIT STRATEGY
Spielman might not be able to execute any trades of significance at the deadline, but he should have several whiteboards dedicated to a Cousins exit strategy – and that includes potential trades.
Granted, any Cousins trade would involve the perfect storm of a team desperate for a quarterback (a la the Vikings following the Teddy Bridgewater knee injury) and with copious cap space. Oh, and the Vikings would probably have to include draft picks as an incentive and agree to get almost nothing in return. In other words, a trade of Cousins at any point between now and the beginning of next season seems like a long shot. The same goes for cutting him. Go visit a site like overthecap.com for the grim reality of the Vikings’ situation with Cousins. In any scenario, the Vikings wind up eating millions and millions of dollars.
At a certain point, they might have to do it anyway.
A likely outcome is that Cousins is on the Vikings in 2021 (the bad news) with a high draft pick quarterback other than Lawrence waiting in the wings (the good news) for 2022 at the latest – someone like Justin Fields of Ohio State, Trey Lance from NDSU or Zach Wilson of BYU.
Signing Cousins to such a massive extension is looking more like GM malpractice with every game. His crippling salary paired with poor play is a lethal combination. Doing nothing about it would make things worse and constitute a fireable offense for all involved. Figure out an exit strategy with numerous scenarios and scout the heck out of his potential first-round replacements in the draft. That’s the No. 1 priority for this team right now.