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Zulgad: Bad timing? Cousins’ absence should help bring necessary end to Vikings’ season

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Nov 21, 2021; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) and Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Preston Smith (91) in action at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Is Kirk Cousins’ refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine the reason he tested positive for the virus on Friday and will be forced to miss the Vikings game at Green Bay on Sunday night, or would the quarterback have gotten a breakthrough case anyway that would have sidelined him? That is a debate that can rage between the sides in this never-ending debate.

But if you analyze this purely from a football standpoint, this much is clear: The timing of Cousins’ loss — while fitting for a franchise that has terrible timing — actually is perfect. Let me be clear: I hope Cousins has only mild symptoms and is back as soon as possible.

I also hope this leads to the necessary defeat that will end what has become a ridiculous attempt by the Vikings to grab the seventh and final playoff seed in the NFC. The Vikings already were 6.5-point underdogs with Cousins set to start, but Sean Mannion’s presence will increase the spread by which the Packers will be favored on a frigid night at Lambeau Field.

After the Cousins news broke, there were many who pointed out what Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told the media early in training camp as he voiced concerns about the high level of his players who refused to get vaccinated. “Something like (a positive test) happens a day before a game that has a chance to get you to the playoffs or something like that,” Zimmer said, ” … you can see the cases going up every single day now. That’s why, for the sake of everybody’s health, I think it’s important (to be vaccinated). But some people don’t understand, I guess.”

This was before the outbreak of the Omicron variant that has been spreading in recent weeks. Zimmer’s disgust with some of his players was understandable in large part because in late July expectations for the 2021 season were extremely high. The Vikings were expected to challenge the Packers for the NFC North title and had made many changes to rebound from a disappointing 7-9 finish in 2020.

The Vikings didn’t come close, even with Cousins starting every game until now. Unvaccinated safety Harrison Smith and running back Dalvin Cook missed games because of COVID, as did vaccinated cornerback Patrick Peterson, center Garret Bradbury and others. The season has been filled with disappointing losses, including one to the Rams last Sunday in a game that Matthew Stafford tried to gift to the home team. The Vikings are 7-8 and instead of fighting the Packers for the division title, they are trying to grab a playoff berth that shouldn’t exist. The Packers, meanwhile, are 12-3 and on track to be the top seed in the conference.

Speculation of late has been  that owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have yet to make decisions on the futures of general manager Rick Spielman and Zimmer. Eventually, a decision also will have to be made on Cousins, who will be entering the final season of his contract in 2022 and is due to count $45 million against the salary cap. That would be the third-highest cap hit among NFL quarterbacks for 2022. Whoever is running the football operation for the Vikings in March will either have to give Cousins an extension to get the cap hit lowered, or trade him with a post-June 1 designation in order to save $35 million in cap space.

If a decision hasn’t been made on Spielman and Zimmer, one has to wonder what the Wilfs are waiting to see. Would a win in Green Bay save their jobs? Would a playoff berth do the trick? A playoff win? Haven’t we all seen enough by this point? This franchise is in need of a reset that starts at the top and even a miracle victory over the Packers isn’t going to change that.

There have been rumors that Spielman could be kicked upstairs. That would be a good start considering the Vikings haven’t been over .500 in two seasons and a fresh set of eyes are needed to evaluate this team from top to bottom. A new GM also would be instrumental in hiring a coach and deciding whether to extend Cousins, or move on from the quarterback and invest the savings elsewhere.

This current version of the Vikings has grown stale and that would be true if Cousins was playing Sunday. The anger that many directed at Cousins for his vaccination stance back in the summer was based on the fact that he was expected to be the QB of a good team, not one that specialized in close losses. If Cousins’ decision does ultimately help to cause a house cleaning at TCO Performance Center, he’s doing everyone a favor.

That’s because anyone being honest with themselves knows that a one-sided Vikings loss would be for the best. The time for anger is gone. Rational Vikings followers have entered the stage of resignation and the reality that the sooner this season comes to an end the better.