As the Minnesota Vikings’ playoff hopes evaporated on Sunday night, another harsh reality set it: It wouldn’t have mattered if Kellen Mond had started or not. Minnesota needed much more than a superior replacement for Sean Mannion. After the game, when asked about the quarterback situation, head coach Mike Zimmer responded as only he could, even while perched on the hottest of seats. Depending on your perspective, it’s either a classic case of the famously blunt coach speaking his mind or an indication of how his stubbornness continues to jeopardize the team’s future.
By landing on the COVID/reserve list last week, Kirk Cousins forced Zimmer to consider several unappealing options. Mannion had been elevated from that COVID list back to the active roster, and the Vikings scooped up former preseason sensation Kyle Sloter. Mond, one of Minnesota’s third-round picks of 2021, was also in the mix. Zimmer opted to go with Mannion and didn’t give it a second thought.
“We hate to see that happen to Kirk, but he’s done a lot of great things for us,” Zimmer said. “Sean is a really good football player, and we’re expecting him to go out and play really well. …We knew that Sean was coming back, and Sean is extremely bright, he studies like crazy, he’s a great competitor,” Zimmer said. “He’s put in his time, he’s earned this opportunity, and I think he’ll do great.”
The upside of starting Mond is getting a sense of what the team has in their rookie quarterback out of Texas A&M. On the other hand, the more experienced Mannion made sense, considering the Vikings needed to win to keep their postseason hopes alive. Zimmer believed Mannion gave them the best chance to win, and it’s hard to argue with that point. It’s what Zimmer said after this loss, after Minnesota had their postseason dreams smashed, that raised eyebrows.
This sort of brutal honesty can be admirable, but it also may be one of the factors that cost Zimmer his job. What’s the point of burying the rookie with this answer? How does it inspire any confidence going forward? Like the decision to start Mannion over Mond, there are two vastly different ways to view this single postgame interaction.
Coachspeak gets old. Head coaches dole out the same pat answers every week until they sound like robots with limited programming. Hearing Zimmer be so blunt humanizes the situation, but this might not have been the right spot for it. Why not just say they’ll evaluate things this week and go from there? Yes, it’s the coachspeak answer, but it’s necessary in this spot. Zimmer did neither himself nor Mond any favors.
Letting him off the hook because his emotions were running high is too easy. Zimmer’s been around the block far too many times to be peddling that alibi. It’s true that his season just ended, and his job is presumably in jeopardy, but blindsiding Mond unnecessarily isn’t going to help that one bit.
Minnesota will have big decisions to make at the end of the season, and not all of them involve Zimmer. The future of their entire quarterbacks room is in question. Getting a glimpse of Mond in action might provide some insight. But based on Zimmer’s statements, it doesn’t sound like Mond will start against the Bears, no matter how much sense it makes.
The Vikings know what they have in Cousins, and Mannion will be nothing more than a backup. There’s a chance Mond never evolves into anything resembling a starting NFL quarterback. Still, there’s no chance the game against the Bears has any relevance to Minnesota’s playoff status or Zimmer’s job prospects. But it could mean a lot in Mond’s development.
Starting Cousins accomplishes nothing. The same goes for rolling Mannion out again. Don’t expect that to change Zimmer’s mind, though. His stubbornness has reared its head yet again. He’s staying true to himself, for whatever that’s worth.