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Zulgad: Ugly ending? Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins could be headed for a messy divorce

NFL: Minnesota Vikings Minicamp
Jun 15, 2021; in Eagen, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer and quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) talk during drills at OTA at TCO Performance Center. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

Kirk Cousins’ expected return from his five-day quarantine on Thursday will end Part I of the Vikings’ vaccination saga, but there are still many questions to be answered by the quarterback and about his relationship with coach Mike Zimmer.

That is if there is still a relationship between the two.

By now all Vikings fans know that Cousins isn’t vaccinated for COVID-19 and because of that has had to sit out after he was in close contact with fellow quarterback Kellen Mond, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday.

From afar, it always has seemed as if Zimmer has tolerated Cousins more than embraced him. This isn’t shocking considering Zimmer’s life work has been dedicated to stopping quarterbacks, and Cousins is eating up valuable salary-cap room that could have been used on defensive players. The only quarterback Zimmer seemed fond of during his eight-year stint in Minnesota was 2014 first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater.

Zimmer hasn’t been nearly as critical of Cousins as he was, say, Case Keenum (“He’s got a horseshoe right now,” Zimmer said talking about Keenum’s luck in 2017), but he also doesn’t go out of his way to praise Cousins. Cousins and his substantial pay days seem to have been considered a necessary evil in Zimmer’s mind.

But one has to wonder if what had been a civil relationship between Zimmer and Cousins has been blown to smithereens in the past four days. Zimmer didn’t hesitate to express his disappointment and anger with his non-vaccinated players during his press conference on Saturday and Monday and that list begins with Cousins. Cousins is incredibly head strong himself and odds seem long that he will decide to get the vaccine.

Zimmer told KFAN’s Dan Barreiro on Tuesday that Cousins doesn’t believe in the COVID-19 protocols. That was after Zimmer made it clear during his Saturday press conference that he really couldn’t talk about particulars when it came to players and vaccinations. But the more Zimmer talks, the more fed up he gets with anyone who jeopardizes his ability to win football games and this is no time to mess with wins and losses.

In Cousins’ personal life, he has the right to believe anything he wants, but Cousins the NFL player is putting Zimmer’s job, and the jobs of plenty others, on the line by not getting vaccinated. If Cousins is ignoring any of the other protocols the NFL has put in place for non-vaccinated players, he will be risking having to go back into quarantine on a daily basis. The NFL has made it clear it is looking to punish non-vaccinated players and, whether that’s right or wrong, it has the hammer.

It’s one thing for Jake Browning to become a good story by taking over as the Vikings’ top quarterback for four days early in training camp. It’s another to wake up on Sunday morning and find out that Browning has to start against the Packers or the Bears or the 49ers or the Rams. In Zimmer’s nightmares, it could be all of those teams because Cousins doesn’t need to test positive for COVID-19 to be sidelined by the league for five days at a time.

So how is Zimmer going to handle it when a guy he tolerated and is compensated incredibly well, now might not be able to do his job? How is Cousins going to handle it when Zimmer makes it clear that his beliefs don’t matter nearly as much as wins and losses? Remember, Cousins is signed through 2022 and Zimmer through 2023 and they might struggle to get through this year together.

This situation is a long way from over — there are plenty of other key Vikings who could feel the coach’s wrath as well — and, if nothing changes, you have to believe that Zimmer’s frustration with Cousins’ refusal to adhere to the protocols will reach a breaking point. That won’t be good for anybody and could quickly derail a season in which the Vikings have big expectations.

That, of course, is the worst case scenario. The problem is a week into training camp it seems to be trending in that direction.