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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Paying Kirk Cousins could put Vikings’ coach on the defensive

By Judd Zulgad

Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer, the odd couple of Minnesota sports, took their act to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis this week.

Spielman, the Vikings’ general manager who plays the role of Felix Unger, spoke to the media on Wednesday and said as little as possible about the team’s uncertain quarterback situation. Spielman confirmed the Vikings will employ someone to start at the position next season and that was about it.

Zimmer, aka Oscar Madison, took a different approach. The Vikings coach all but cut open a vein during his media sessions on Thursday as he discussed a variety of subjects, including the Vikings’ trio of soon-to-be free agent quarterbacks (Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum).

This had to leave Spielman in a cold sweat but that’s the beauty of it. It’s a rarity for any NFL executive or coach to be forthcoming, even Zimmer often shuts it down during the season, and when it does happen it’s refreshing.

While Zimmer did not mention the Vikings’ potential pursuit of Kirk Cousins in free agency, his comments provided insight into his thinking on the matter of chasing the sure-to-be high-priced quarterback from Washington.

“The one thing I told Rick was, ‘We’ve had a good team, that’s why we’ve won 40 games,” since the 2014 season, Zimmer said. “It’s not because we’ve had this one guy or that one guy. Let’s make sure we keep understanding the team is why we have done good things.”

Zimmer’s motivation in saying this could be twofold.

One, his affinity for Bridgewater is well known and despite the fact Bridgewater has played in only a small part of one game over the past two seasons, Zimmer still might want him to return and have a chance to start in 2018.

Two, and this might be most important, is that signing Cousins to a contract that could pay him nearly $30 million a season would make it extremely difficult to retain some key members of the Vikings’ defense.

Defensive end Danielle Hunter, linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr, and cornerback Trae Waynes all are due to become free agents after next season. For that matter, so is standout wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Giving Cousins the type of contract he is going to demand and command, could cost the Vikings some of that homegrown talent.

Zimmer will be entering his fifth season as an NFL head coach in 2018, meaning he has had plenty of time to adjust to being in charge of every aspect of a team. Zimmer, however, spent much of his coaching life as a defensive coordinator and there is little doubt his pride and joy remains on that side of the ball.

Zimmer also knows he was hired in large part because the Vikings were tired of seeing their defenses get lit up by NFC North foes like Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler. Zimmer’s has now built a unit that finished first in the NFL this season in total and scoring defense.

That type of success comes at a price.

Zimmer might believe there is a less-expensive option than Cousins, perhaps it’s Bridgewater, who can get the job done and not force his franchise to lose valuable pieces.

Given Zimmer’s refusal to back Keenum for most of this season and the comments Zimmer made this week about Keenum — “Is he the guy when he was at Houston or the Rams, or is he the guy who played for us? – it is doubtful the coach considers Keenum to be the long-term fix in Minnesota.

It wouldn’t be shocking if Spielman and Zimmer don’t see eye-to-eye on the quarterback matter, at least when it comes to Cousins. Despite the criticism Spielman has received through the years, he has brought a lot of talent to the roster since joining the organization in May 2006.

But the one position that he hasn’t figured out is the most important one. The Vikings have had the same starting quarterback on back-to-back opening days only three times since 2006.

Tarvaris Jackson started the 2007 and 2008 openers, but was benched early in the latter season. Brett Favre started the openers the following two years, but retired after a forgettable 2010, and Christian Ponder started in 2012 and 2013 before it became clear the 2011 first-round pick wasn’t going to be the answer.

“It’s important for myself and Rick and the organization to pick the right guy that is going to help us continue to move forward,” Zimmer said. “If we don’t do that, then I’ll probably get fired.”

Actually, another miscalculation on a quarterback would be more likely to cost Spielman his job. That might be why Spielman would want to go with Cousins, seeing him as the surest thing on the market.

In Zimmer’s mind, the best plan likely would be to keep as much talent on defense as possible. Cousins’ arrival might make that difficult, meaning he would come at a price Zimmer would prefer not to pay.

The post Zulgad: Paying Kirk Cousins could put Vikings’ coach on the defensive appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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