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Zulgad: All apologies: Kirk Cousins’ words ring hollow as Stefon Diggs’ absence raises eyebrows

Stefon Diggs did not practice on Wednesday, presumably because he’s unhappy with his role, or lack of one, in the Vikings’ offense. A day earlier, Kirk Cousins apologized to Adam Thielen for not getting the wide receiver the ball in an ugly loss in Chicago. That was the same game in which Diggs melted down on the sideline and had to be calmed by teammates.

None of this comes as a shock considering the Vikings long ago perfected the art of dysfunction. What is surprising is this team is sitting at 2-2 four weeks into the season and yet it feels like things are circling the drain. The Vikings have beaten what appear to be two bad teams (Atlanta and Oakland) and lost extremely winnable NFC North games (Green Bay and Chicago) on the road.

Minnesota spent Cousins’ first season as its starting quarterback blaming offensive coordaintor John DeFilippo for the team’s shortcomings. That led the Vikings to hire longtime NFL head coach Gary Kubiak and promote Kevin Stefanski during the offseason to install a system that would be more Cousins-friendly. But Cousins’ play has regressed and he has been awful when it matters most.

Cousins’ offensive line might be terrible in pass protection, but the veteran quarterback isn’t making things any better by holding the ball far too long when he should be getting rid of it in the name of self-preservation. Cousins also isn’t helping by verbally scolding himself after every bad performance. Diggs had a crucial fumble in the first half Sunday at Chicago and I’m sure he felt awful. But if he apologized for it he didn’t do so publicly, nor should he have.

Last season, Cousins rubbed some teammates the wrong way by pointing fingers at less than ideal times when he would have been better off taking responsibility after things went wrong. Somebody got to Cousins this offseason to tell him that but this has become ridiculous.

Cousins’ apology to Thielen on his podcast was over the top, and Thielen being present for the show made it nothing more than an attempt at damage control to show that everything was fine at TCO Performance Center. It also was a massive waste of everyone’s time considering the normally accessible Diggs had quit talking to the media for the past week and then did not practice Wednesday for non-injury related reasons.

By saying nothing, and then not practicing, Diggs seemed to be telling us all we need to know.

With the offense now centered around running back Dalvin Cook, Diggs has caught only 13 passes (19 targets) for 209 yards and one touchdown. Thielen is at 13 receptions (22 targets) for 179 yards and two touchdowns. Diggs is in the first season of a five-year, $72 million contract that includes $40 million in guarantees and was signed in July 2018. Thielen signed a four-year extension worth $64.8 million with $33 million guaranteed this past April. Cousins is in the second season of a three-year, guaranteed $84 million.

Diggs and Thielen did not get those contracts so they could be spectators. Cousins was not rewarded with that type of money to end up issuing a weekly apology about his play. No one wants to hear Cousins’ excuses, all they want to see him do is win football games. Both against bottom-feeders and good teams.

Cousins’ inability to do the latter has become staggering. The 31-year-old is 5-27 against teams with a winning record in his career (including his time in Washington); he’s 1-8 against winning teams with the Vikings; he’s 5-13 in prime time, including 0-7 on Monday nights; and he’s 13-25-2 on the road.

Cousins’ defenders will point out that it’s not fair to put all the blame on him, but the above numbers aren’t exactly a small sample size. Fully guaranteed contracts are extremely rare in the NFL but Cousins got one and with it came huge expectations. He’s come nowhere close to meeting them.

The common refrain from the Vikings side is that we’re only four games into the season, but really this conversation is about the 20 games in which Cousins has played. He was signed in 2018 to be the final piece of a potential Super Bowl puzzle for a team that went 13-3 in 2017 and reached the NFC title game. The Vikings are 10-9-1 since and missed the postseason last year.

Maybe we’ll find out Diggs’ unhappiness goes beyond the quarterback. Maybe we’ll find out he’s upset the offense is centered around the run game — he’ll have to talk to head coach Mike Zimmer about that, if that’s the case — or maybe the Vikings will come up with a reason why Diggs disappeared for a day and they will attempt to put a happy face on the situation.

But it won’t be surprising if we learn Diggs is tired of seeing his quarterback struggle and then issue mea culpas, as if that’s going to solve the problem. After all, the Vikings have decided that the best way to win is to ask as little of Cousins as possible and yet they are paying him a base salary of $27.5 million this season. No one can be blamed if they’ve decided that Cousins’ act is getting old and that includes his teammates.


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