With several veterans out the door, are the Minnesota Vikings in a reloading phase or has Mike Zimmer lost control of his team?
Under Mike Zimmer, the Minnesota Vikings have enjoyed plenty of success. The Vikings head coach has a record of 57-38-1 and he has secured a pair of NFC North titles since his hiring prior to the 2014 season. This resume is just as good as Dennis Green and Bud Grant when it comes to best coaches in the history of the franchise.
But how has he done it? Many will tell you that he’s built a defense that is routinely in the top 10 of the NFL. Others will describe his no-nonsense, hard-nosed approach that has helped Minnesota win games with teams that have no business winning. But another key component of his success has been the loyalty of his players.
That loyalty has fallen apart over the past couple of weeks as the Vikings have signaled a massive roster overhaul. Some of this was expected. But the other half has been auspicious as players who were figured to be coming back, slammed the door in Zimmer’s face.
Let’s start with the group of players that got the “Old Yeller” treatment.
Shortly before the beginning of free agency, the Vikings cut Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes so they could do more important things like give their fullback $12 million. All jokes aside, this was one of the most predictable moves of the offseason, but it’s what happened next that was the head-scratcher.
Whispers began circulating that Minnesota could bring either Joseph or Rhodes back for 2020 at a reduced rate and that would make sense. Players such as Brian Robison and Everson Griffen have taken pay cuts in the past to stay with Zimmer and even as a rotational player, it’s possible Joseph and Rhodes could still have value.
The next step was to get rid of the presumed malcontent on the team, Stefon Diggs. While the fan base is divided on how to handle his departure, there’s one thing to remember about Diggs and that is he still did his job.
Even when he was pissed off that the Vikings were reverting back to the 1997 Denver Broncos offense, he still came to play, setting a career-high in yards and becoming Kirk Cousins‘ top weapon when Adam Thielen went down with a hamstring injury.
But it was the decision to skip practice following a Week 4 loss to the Chicago Bears that sealed his fate. In fact, it irked Zimmer so bad, he apparently stood in front of the entire team to claim Diggs had “quit” on them.
Diggs would go on to post 921 yards and five touchdowns the rest of the way, so we might have a different definition of quitting.
Diggs was traded to the Buffalo Bills last month and the real mass exodus began. Mackensie Alexander left, along with Trae Waynes, to sign with the Cincinnati Bengals, mainly because Zimmer decided to trot him out in a meaningless Week 17 game and tanked his free-agent value with a torn meniscus.
Then there’s Griffen, who was given a huge life raft from Minnesota during a 2018 mental health battle. Even after Griffen opted out of his contract, Zimmer declared at this year’s NFL Scouting Combine that the defensive end would be back for 2020.
Griffen has yet to sign elsewhere, but his emotional Instagram post seems to hint he’s the next one out of Minnesota. Griffen has also said, “never say never,” on a return, so this could still happen.
Again, everyone knew that a large chunk of the roster was going to head elsewhere this offseason. But it seems odd that there’s this weird “we’re still friends, right?” after every roster move.
For what it’s worth, Diggs didn’t even mention Zimmer or the coaching staff in his post on The Players’ Tribune where he basically praised the entire state of Minnesota outside of the Vikings head coach.
Perhaps this is a case in which an old-school head coach slowly starts to be too old-school to succeed in today’s NFL. Maybe the roster got sick of the run the ball, muppet-slashing, “Bill Parcells would have done this”, way of doing things and looked to start their own way.
But that’s what’s going to determine whether Zimmer hangs on in Minnesota. With 12 draft picks coming aboard for 2020, his methods will be put to the test. If he’s able to keep the ship afloat in 2020 with a significantly younger roster, then maybe there’s nothing to see here.
If he’s not, the beginning of the end could be coming for one of the most successful head coaches in franchise history.