The Rodgers Situation Raises the Stakes for Zimmer and Spielman in A Pivotal Season

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel (USA TODAY Sports)

It’s been two and a half weeks since Adam Schefter dropped the bombshell that legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was no longer interested in returning to the team for the 2021 season. For those of us in Skolville, it’s been a joyous time watching our neighbors to the east wallow in the misery of yet another organizational meltdown relating to an iconic quarterback turning their back on the Packers’ front office.

Minnesota Vikings fans can’t help but fantasize about an NFC North where Kirk Cousins — of all people — stands atop the hierarchy of the quarterbacks in the division. And for good reason. Since Rodgers replaced Brett Favre in 2008, the Packers are 6-11-1 in games that Rodgers was forced to miss. It’s no secret that having a Mount Rushmore quarterback covers up a lot of holes within your organization, and no one has reaped the benefits of that more than the Packers over the past 29 seasons.

With the situation still unfolding at 1265 Lombardi Ave., the oddsmakers in Las Vegas have removed the Green Bay Packers from their expected win totals for the 2021 season.

Should this situation take a turn for the worse for our Cheesehead friends and Rodgers is traded out of Green Bay, it’s widely expected that the Packers will be slated towards the bottom half of the NFL for projected win totals. And in that scenario, one could assume that the Vikings would see a slight bump in expectations from the oddsmakers out in Sin City.

Which begs the question: Should Rodgers be playing elsewhere, if at all, in 2021, what are reasonable expectations for Year 8 of the Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman era? I do know this: Hovering around .500 and sneaking into the playoffs is not an acceptable answer.

Green Bay’s stranglehold on the division would no longer be felt without their knight in shining armor and reigning NFL MVP. Therefore, for just the fourth time since 2011, there is an opportunity for someone other than the Packers to capture the NFC North crown.

And unlike in 2008 when the Packers were transitioning from Favre to Rodgers, allowing the Vikings to win the division, going one-and-done in the playoffs would not suffice for Zimmer and Spielman. Considering the duration of this regime’s tenure, which includes the same quarterback returning for his fourth season in purple — the first time that’s happened since Daunte Culpepper from 2000-05 — there simply is no excuse whatsoever for the Vikings should Rodgers no longer find himself in Green Bay in 2021.

Since the miraculous 2017 season, the Zimmer/Spielman tandem has left a lot to be desired, going 26-23-1 (including a 1-1 record in the 2019 postseason) since committing to Cousins. And don’t fool yourselves, the pressure was already starting to mount long before Rodgers’ intentions became public. While Zimmer and Spielman have had the luxury of minimized expectations with Rodgers in the division, that might no longer be the case.

The question remains: If Rodgers forces his way out of Green Bay, what would qualify as a success for the Vikings next year? And what do the Vikings need to accomplish for Zimmer and Spielman to return for the 2022 season?

Next season is undoubtedly a make-or-break season for Zimmer and Spielman. And the stakes have potentially been raised for the first time since the fortuitous 2017 season when Rodgers missed nine games.

While it feels like a majority of Vikings fans continue to give Zimmer and his middle-of-the-pack brand of football the benefit of the doubt, if the Vikings can’t figure out a way to win at least 10 games, the NFC North, AND a home playoff game with Rodgers no longer within the division, then what’s the point of bringing him back for a ninth season as the head coach?

Unless, of course, we’ve resorted to accepting our inevitable fate of being Loserville, USA.

And, in case you haven’t noticed, since the Cleveland Cavaliers captured the 2016 NBA title, Minneapolis/St. Paul holds the crown for the longest championship drought of all cities with the four major male professional sporting leagues — going 30 years strong since the Minnesota Twins won the 1991 World Series.

If Zimmer’s Vikings can’t put forth tangible evidence of a chance at the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy, especially with Rodgers no longer in the division next year, then I’ll leave it to the rest of you to accept his mediocre football.

At the end of the day, and in a Rodgers-less scenario, is 10 wins, a divisional crown, and a home playoff game victory really asking that much in Year freakin’ 8?

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