The past two days have provided multiple storylines on the Minnesota sports scene. Here they are along with the reaction in the latest edition of Zulgad’s Roundup.
Item: Running back Dalvin Cook dislocated his left shoulder and suffered a torn labrum on a third quarter fumble in the Vikings’ 34-26 loss Sunday against San Francisco. While coach Mike Zimmer said Monday that Cook is day-to-day, word is he will miss at least two games with the hope he can return Dec. 20 at Chicago.
Reaction: Cook’s abilities never have been questioned, but there is a reason some expressed concern when the Vikings elected to sign Cook to a five-year, $63 million contract extension ($28.125 million guaranteed) before the 2020 season. Cook has struggled to stay healthy and that has continued in 2021. Cook missed two games this season because of an ankle injury and has never played in more than 14 games during his five NFL seasons. Cook averaged a career-best 111.2 yards per game last year, but that is down to 85.9 yards in nine games this season. He has been through this injury before, having torn the labrum in his right shoulder in 2019. Cook sat out the final two games of the regular season, but came back to rush for 94 yards and added 36 yards receiving in a 26-20 victory over New Orleans in the playoffs. Alexander Mattison and Kene Nwangwu will be Cook’s replacements. While the 26-year-old Cook is likely to return this season, you have to wonder how long that return will last?
Item: Kirk Cousins lines up under right guard Oli Udoh with the Vikings at the 3-yard line in Minnesota’s penultimate drive in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Cousins was forced to use a timeout as a result.
Reaction: The confusion that led to Cousins trying to shift receivers as the play-clock wound down and then saw Cousins lineup under his right guard, could have ended up being amusing if he had then thrown a strike to Justin Jefferson in the end zone to pull the Vikings within two points. But when Cousins overthrew Jefferson and gave the ball back to the 49ers, it became confirmation that some moments are just too big for Cousins and turned his mistake into an NFL punchline.
Item: The Twins and center fielder Byron Buxton reportedly agree to a seven-year, $100 million contract extension that includes a full no-trade clause and is loaded with incentives. ESPN reported that Buxton will be paid $500,000 every time he reaches 502, 533, 567, 600 and 625 plate appearances, and also has MVP bonuses in each year of the deal: $8 million for finishing first, $7 million for finishing second, $6 million for third, $5 million for fourth, $4 million for fifth and $3 million for finishing in sixth through 10th place.
Reaction: The Twins’ front office hasn’t provided many reasons to praise them in the past year, but the Buxton agreement hits the pause button on the criticism. It’s no secret that Buxton struggles to stay healthy — he has played in more than 100 games only once in seven big-league seasons — but he also has proven that when he is on the field he has the ability to impact the game like few others. Buxton is one of the best center fielders in the major leagues, has speed that makes him a nightmare on the bases and has figured things out at the plate. The Twins initial lowball offers to Buxton last summer caused many to assume they would trade him before the 2022 season, but instead the team and Buxton settled on a contract that isn’t just fair but will reward the player, if he can stay healthy. Buxton almost certainly could have gotten more elsewhere, but was being honest when he said his desire was to remain with the club that took him second overall in the 2012 draft.
Item: Former Wild center Mikko Koivu will have his No. 9 retired by the team before its March 13 game against Nashville at Xcel Energy Center.
Reaction: There are many who will applaud the decision to make Koivu the first player in franchise history to have his number retired. (Don’t get me started on the No. 1 being retired before the team’s first-ever home game to honor fans.) But Koivu’s 15 seasons in Minnesota — and franchise records he holds because of that longevity — is why teams have rings of honor. Do you really rush to retire the number of a player whose team won only two of 11 playoff series and is unlikely to be a Hall of Famer? The longtime Wild captain deserves a night in his honor. But raising his number to the rafters? That seems a bit much.
Item: Quarterback Tanner Morgan will return for a sixth season with the Gophers football team, but co-offensive coordinator Mike Sanford Jr., will not be back for a third season.
Reaction: Morgan’s rocky 2021 had many Gophers fans looking forward to moving on but Sanford’s exit might be exactly what Morgan needs. Morgan had plenty of success in 2019 — granted he was playing with future NFL wide receivers in Rashod Bateman and Tyler Johnson — but his drop off this year went beyond the receiving options around him not being as good. Morgan appeared to lose all confidence, and Sanford rarely seemed to have the answer for how to help. Sanford’s complete reliance on the run game was more suited for football of a bygone era. Morgan attempted 237 passes in 12 games. The only teams that threw fewer passes were service academies Army, Navy and Air Force. So who will replace Sanford? It could be as simple as having co-offensive coordinator Matt Simon, the Gophers’ wide receivers coach, take over the play-calling duties. The Gophers also could bring back Fleck’s longtime offensive coordinator, Kirk Ciarrocca, who left for Penn State after the 2019 season but was let go after one year and is now an offensive analyst at West Virginia. The guess here is whatever Fleck does it will be an improvement.