HomeNewsZimmer, worried about a Cousins mega-deal, saw the future four years ago

Zimmer, worried about a Cousins mega-deal, saw the future four years ago

La Velle’s 3-2 Pitch: Three observations and two predictions on Sundays.

Nearly four years later, the results are in: Signing Kirk Cousins was a mistake.

It’s a signing that ultimately could result in firings: the general manager, other leaders in the front office, members of the coaching staff and a head coach who knew this day might come. In fact, he basically predicted it.

The 7-9 Vikings will end the season Sunday with a game against the 6-10 Bears that means essentially nothing. This is far from the expectations heading into the season when double-digit victories and a playoff berth seemed reasonable.

In four Cousins-led seasons, the Vikings have made the playoffs only once.

How did the Vikings get here? After going 13-3 in 2017 and advancing in the postseason behind Case Keenum’s Minneapolis Miracle, the Vikings looked to upgrade at quarterback.

Coach Mike Zimmer, during a revealing media session at the 2018 scouting combine, expressed concern then that breaking the bank to acquire an expensive QB such as Cousins would lead to departures on his defense in order to balance the books.

“The one thing I told [GM Rick Spielman] was, I said, ‘Look, we’ve had a good team, that’s why we’ve won 40 games [over the previous four seasons],’ ” Zimmer said then. “It’s not because we’ve had this one guy or that one guy. Let’s make sure we keep understanding the team is why we have done good things.

“You just have to pick out the right one [quarterback] that’s going to help your football team the best. And where you can still do things at other positions. You don’t want to go crazy here.”

Cousins’ contract arrived a short while later and it was eye-popping, if not crazy: an $84 million three-year, fully guaranteed contract with the highest average annual salary in NFL history at $28 million. And it did indeed eventually lead to defensive departures.

That mega-investment has brought only that one playoff season in 2019, when the Vikings outscored opponents 407-303. The next year, the defense gave up a Zimmer-worst 475 points, and it has given up 409 through 16 games this season.

After Sunday’s game, Cousins will have passed for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in three of his four Vikings seasons. He has produced, but he has led an offense that too often failed to outscore opponents. That has not been Zimmer’s kind of defense on the field the past two years, partially due to financial limitations and the inability to afford better free agents. And Cousins’ cap hit next year will be $45 million. How will it get better?

At that 2018 combine, Zimmer could already see this trouble and was already considering the possible ramifications.

“It’s important for myself and Rick and the organization to pick the right guy that is going to help us continue to move forward,” Zimmer said that day. “If we don’t do that, then I’ll probably be fired.”

Signing Cousins was a franchise-altering move, and it has played out in the wrong direction. And we could wake up Monday morning to exactly what Zimmer imagined in 2018.

Wild flush with young talent

What we learned on Thursday during the Wild’s 3-2 victory over Boston is that Trent Frederic is now a four-letter word in these parts for his hit on Kirill Kaprizov.

No, seriously, we learned that the kids can play.

The focus will be on Matt Boldy, who scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in his debut after making a nice pass to Marcus Foligno then moving toward the net before burying Foligno’s return. There also will be plenty of attention thrown toward Marco Rossi, who also made his debut and showed off his talents in 16 minutes of ice time.

But save some stick taps for rookie center Connor Dewar. Dewar assisted on a power-play goal, had two shots on goal, had two takeaways and delivered a hit against the Bruins. The Wild ended a five-game losing streak entering Thursday with three rookies contributing to a much-needed victory.

Spring training blues

This is around the time pitchers begin throwing programs with an eye toward spring training. Those workouts normally take place with the ultimate goal of being ready for Opening Day in early April.

That’s hard to do this year with the current lockout in place. Recent reports are not encouraging, as players and the owners have no plans to meet over core economic issues in the near future.

Everything is on hold right now. Players aren’t even signing rental agreements for spring training housing as they wait to get a better idea of when camps will open. Renters normally demand a two-month commitment — and a deposit — for players and media heading to Florida for spring training. Few will make commitments until labor wars subside and there is an agreement.

So the spring training economy has ground to a halt. Twins fans can’t even look forward to escaping a frozen Minnesota.

… AND TWO PREDICTIONS …

Antonio a Cowboy?

Antonio Brown needs to play where there is an established quarterback, an owner willing to take risks and a franchise hungry for a title. One team checks all those boxes. Look for the mercurial wide receiver to play next season for the Dallas Cowboys.

Big-men trouble for Gophers

After that eye-opening blowout loss to Illinois on Tuesday, we now know the Gophers men’s basketball team definitely will have problems with opposing big men. There are a few of those in the Big Ten. The call here is that this team will win seven conference games.

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