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Zulgad: Blame game: Mike Zimmer is easy target, but Vikings’ locker room also needs shakeup

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

There seems to be a dangerous assumption developing among some fans in the wake of Mike Zimmer’s dismissal as Vikings’ coach last Monday. That is that the Boogeyman has been shown the door and, therefore, what ailed the Vikings is now gone.

While Zimmer’s firing, and also the decision to let general manager Rick Spielman go, were the correct calls by ownership, thinking that Zimmer’s departure will solve all of the issues at TCO Performance Center is to miss the big picture.

Fans who have paid their hard-earned money for Vikings jerseys that have the names and numbers of some longtime players on the back might not like this, but the cleanup process has only started. Once the new general manager and coach walk in the door we should be looking at a few years of roster reconstruction that will say goodbye to many players Spielman and Zimmer found to be key to the team.

Yes, this almost certainly will include overpaid quarterback Kirk Cousins. Spielman thought Cousins would be the answer — he does put up a great box score — while Zimmer seemed to have little interest in coaching him. The new GM and coach duo, who better be on the same page from Day 1, are far more likely to decide that they need to find their own quarterback (preferably in the draft) and that Cousins can take his statistical production elsewhere.

Zimmer, meanwhile, is likely relaxing at his Kentucky ranch, sipping on an expensive red wine, blissfully unaware of the fact that fans in his former state of employment are now blaming him for everything that has gone wrong in Minnesota Sports.

That was especially true on Sunday morning after Vikings beat writer Ben Goessling had a lengthy story in the Star Tribune that documented several issues Zimmer had during his eight seasons in Minnesota. This came from accounts from more than 20 people with the team or close to it, who were granted anonymity. Goessling an interesting look into Zimmer’s tenure and many of his missteps but that doesn’t mean the coach was the only problem.

There’s little chance that some of the issues with this organization didn’t extend into the locker room and causes problems. That’s just how things go. Fans might be wondering how the media missed all of this, but remember the media is no longer allowed any locker room access because of COVID-19 restrictions. Thus, the team can try to keep a happy face on things and make sure any possible malcontents don’t ever get near a microphone.

The only way to get a real read on how anyone felt about Spielman, Zimmer, Cousins or anyone else, would have been to have a quiet conversation with a player in the locker room over a lunch period. That was once common practice. Having covered the NFL from 2003 to 2010, I can tell you it’s highly unlikely that this team’s locker room was a harmonious place and that everyone thought the quarterback was great.

How widespread was the dysfunction? Well, consider all of the things that have come out since Zimmer and Spielman were fired. It’s often worse than we think and we only find out after the fact.

It will be up to the new brain trust to move on from veterans they see as aging or not part of their plan for re-establishing chemistry that has been lost. The obvious move is to try to trade Cousins, not just to free salary cap space but also set a new tone on and off the field.

For now, most of the blame will be directed at Zimmer. He’s the easy target and he does deserve plenty of criticism. But the changes are likely just starting and Cousins is the last man standing when it comes to the trio of Spielman, Zimmer and Kirk. Odds seem strong that none of them will be working for the Vikings when the regular season begins.

The only question is what will be said about Cousins on his way out the door and how many currently in his fan club will claim they never liked him anyway?