Mike Zimmer stood at the podium on Wednesday, ready to address a room full of reporters. Dalvin Cook’s agent had just told the NFL’s biggest news-breaker that his client was the victim of domestic abuse and extortion. Cook’s ex-girlfriend had just filed a lawsuit alleging physical and emotional abuse. Cook himself would be speaking publicly on the manner in a little over an hour.
“Good morning. Getting ready for San Diego,” Zimmer said, addressing the assembled media. “LA, I mean. Really good football team.”
It was a typical intro for an atypical day. The Los Angeles Chargers and their superstar quarterback, Justin Herbert, await the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The game will go on as scheduled, regardless of what is going on with the Vikings. They have a week to prepare, and then it’s game-on in Southern California.
There’s a next man up mentality in football. Players and coaches compartmentalize to prepare for games that can make or break a team’s season. Danielle Hunter is injured. Harrison Smith is unvaccinated, has COVID, and was in contact with nearly 30 other players and personnel. Dakota Dozier is vaccinated, had a breakthrough case, and had to go to the emergency room.
But the Cook situation is different because it involves domestic abuse. It feels wrong to lump this incident in with the other challenges the team has to overcome. But that’s how it will be treated because that’s how any football team would treat it. There’s a game on Sunday, and they only have three days to get ready for it. The legal system will determine if Cook is guilty or not. The league will handle a potential punishment. The Vikings’ job is to beat the Chargers and return on Monday with a 4-5 record.
“Honestly, I don’t know that much about the situation,” Zimmer said when asked about the lawsuit Cook was named in.
“What I was told is the NFL said this is a, what do you call it?” He paused to ask a public relations representative for the word. “A civil matter, and it is what is. So I don’t know that much about it.”
“I just want everybody to know I’m the victim in this situation,” Cook said when asked about the incident, “and the truth and the details about the situation will come out at a further time and any further questions, you all can ask my agent, my attorney. That’ll be all.”
To use a silly metaphor for a serious situation, the Vikings’ ship is taking on water. That’s expected every year; every team experiences some turbulence. But this is starting to feel like a lot. Minnesota is 3-5 and has to face one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. Their best defensive lineman is out for the season. The leader of their secondary won’t be able to play next week because of COVID. Many of their star players are unvaccinated and could have been exposed to the coronavirus. Now, Cook has been named in a civil lawsuit.
“Hey, you know, this team fights, OK?” Zimmer said defiantly when asked about what they’re up against. “They compete like crazy. We had 98 plays on defense last week, but they fought to the very, very end.”
Tom Kelly would tell everyone to grab an oar, P.J. Fleck would tell them to row the boat, but the Vikings may need to grab a bucket and bail water over the side. Every football team expects some chaos. Injuries are chaos. Cameron Dantzler and Bashaud Breeland created chaos with their Twitter accounts. Kirk Cousins can be a chaos agent.
Some chaos can be mitigated. Some of it cannot.
Maybe the Vikings go into SoFi Stadium and beat the Chargers, then come home and upset the Green Bay Packers. Perhaps they go on a run and make the playoffs. Once you’re in, anything can happen. But it seems increasingly unlikely they can overcome all the barriers they face right now. Ultimately, they need their star players and as few distractions as possible.
They face a demanding schedule down the stretch, including a game in Lambeau and a matchup against the Los Angeles Rams. The Pittsburgh Steelers or Chicago Bears could catch an undermanned, distracted Vikings team off-guard. The Detroit Lions nearly beat them in Minneapolis earlier this year. Winning football games is hard enough. It’s monumentally more difficult when compounding issues off the field affect the availability of players on it.
The ship is taking on water. Eventually, no matter how many people have oars and buckets, a ship that is flooded will sink.