Kirk Cousins‘ vaccination status was a hot topic when he arrived for training camp. Although he billed it as a “private decision,” it became unavoidably public when he was a close contact a few weeks later.
At the time, Cousins told the media that he would be “vigilant” in avoiding the virus. He was going to do whatever it takes, including entombing himself in plexiglass and meeting outside during the cold Minnesota winter. But things changed, and COVID finally found Cousins on Friday.
The first thing that should be on everybody’s minds is his health. Hopefully, his symptoms are mild, and he makes a speedy recovery.
The second is that this is a storybook ending to the horror novel that is the 2021 Minnesota Vikings’ season.
The Vikings came into the year with a goal of not just making the playoffs but going on a run. Coming off a slew of signings to shore up the defense and a pair of draft picks to fix the offensive line. The 7-9 record from a year ago felt like ancient history. But a specter was lurking over them since the beginning of the pre-season.
They had the league’s lowest vaccination rate, putting themselves in danger of sabotaging their season. But when Harrison Smith went down before a game in Baltimore, Camryn Bynum stepped up. Richardson and Armon Watts filled in when Dalvin Tomlinson hit the COVID list. Even when Dalvin Cook tested positive last week, the Vikings had a capable backup in Alexander Mattison.
But Cousins testing positive just hits different.
This was different than Mike Zimmer begging Cousins to be more aggressive downfield. It was different than Cousins refusing to call a timeout. It wasn’t even like suggesting they spend 45 minutes each week breaking down an opposing defense. Even with all of those storylines, the vaccination status hung over the Vikings like a dark cloud.
If Cousins had tested positive in the middle of the season, it would have elicited a dismissive chuckle. Nobody wants to see a person contract this disease, but the Vikings would have plenty of time to make it up in the standings. But having it happen at the end of the season seemed like this was almost inevitable. Zimmer even prognosticated it in his comments during training camp.
It just felt like Cousins would go down when the Vikings needed him the most. Therefore, Sunday’s game seems like the perfect moment for this to happen.
The Vikings are 7-8 and clawing for a playoff berth. After a lethargic effort against the Los Angeles Rams, the Vikings hit the road to face their biggest rival on national television. Seeing Cousins grimace under the lights would have been enough of an on-brand moment, but having him replaced by Sean Mannion is just poetic.
Mannion has been revered as the Good Will Hunting of the NFL. Zimmer is quick to mention his ability on a greaseboard. While Zimmer may leave half-drawn plays for Mannion to finish them late at night, he doesn’t have the same talent as Cousins and is still looking for his first career touchdown pass. He is in his seventh NFL season.
Behind Mannion is Kellen Mond, who the Vikings selected in the third round of last year’s draft. Mond was a consolation prize for the Vikings, who attempted to trade up for Justin Fields but wouldn’t give up the mid-round pick used in Rick Spielman’s annual panic trade or project defensive end that looks like Danielle Hunter.
Mond was also a reason the Vikings felt more comfortable passing on Mac Jones, who currently looks like the best quarterback in this draft class. But all of that praise is easy to dismiss when Zimmer revealed they never considered Mond to start if Cousins were to go down. Instead, Zimmer would rather lean on the veteran, knowing that a rookie like Mond could make a critical mistake that could keep them out of the playoffs.
No matter what, the Vikings were always going to be screwed if Cousins went down. That’s why his comments resonated back in August. It’s why it feels like a fulfillment of a prophecy for this team. The Vikings said all the right things about becoming a championship team in training camp, but it turned out to be lip service once it was time to prove it on the field.