Cousins and backup quarterbacks Kellen Mond and Nate Stanley were placed on the NFL’s reserve/covid-19 list Sunday, a day after they sat out an intrasquad scrimmage during training camp. In their absence, the only quarterback on the Vikings’ roster available for the mock game was Jake Browning, a 2019 undrafted free agent out of Washington who has never taken a regular season snap in the NFL.
Cousins appears to be unvaccinated, given the way his treatment fit into the league’s guidelines, and the threat of him missing games in the regular season is all too real for Zimmer, who has repeatedly expressed frustration to reporters.
Asked Monday how he will feel if the Vikings lose a game this season after a quarterback or another star player is out because of coronavirus protocols, Zimmer replied, “I probably won’t be happy we lost the game, first, and then I probably won’t be happy that we could have prevented this, but these guys, some of them just won’t do it.”
Zimmer, 65, then offered his “out there” comment, which led to a question about whether he was suggesting Minnesota’s unvaccinated players are receiving misinformation.
“It’s their beliefs,” the coach said, “so I don’t know if it’s misinformation. It’s their belief, so whatever they’ve heard or read or been told.” Zimmer said those players perhaps “don’t believe” what they’ve been told by the NFL’s medical specialists.
In comments last year, Cousins downplayed concerns about the pandemic, saying: “If I get it, I’m going to ride it out. I’m going to let nature do its course. … If I die, I die. I kind of have peace about that.”
This June, the 10th-year veteran declined to say whether he had been vaccinated. Cousins predicted this season will be “a lot like last year.”
“We already lived it for one season,” Cousins said then. “It’s a fluid situation, as it has been since the covid pandemic began. We’ll kind of take it one week at a time, one month at a time, and see where we are when we get to the season. You know, it’s so important that we focus on football as well, and make sure we’re winning football games. That’s what really it’ll be about.”
The NFL announced recently it is nearing a 90 percent vaccination rate for players, putting the league well ahead of the national rate. However, several players, such as wide receivers Cole Beasley of the Buffalo Bills and DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals, have spoken out against getting vaccinated. For NFL teams, a starting quarterback who is unvaccinated and thus in danger of being sidelined as a close contact even if he does not test positive presents an alarming scenario.
The Baltimore Ravens lost a low-scoring game to the Pittsburgh Steelers last season after star quarterback Lamar Jackson tested positive. He again tested positive last week at the start of training camp, causing the 2019 MVP to miss practice time. Baltimore TV station WBAL reported Jackson is unvaccinated.
Ravens Coach John Harbaugh struck an upbeat tone at the time, telling reporters: “Whenever you have a problem, whenever something comes up like that, you embrace it, almost rejoice in it because it’s an opportunity to improve somewhere else. You take advantage of the opportunity to gain an advantage and some other different kind of way.”
On Monday, Zimmer didn’t have as sunny of an outlook.
“I’m sure there’s teams that are better situated than we are,” he said. At another point, Zimmer told reporters: “I just feel like we’re going to have guys miss games. There are so many cases going on right now that we’re going to have guys miss games, so we’ve got to be prepared for it.”
The Vikings ran some wildcat formations in Saturday’s scrimmage, with running back Dalvin Cook taking a few snaps directly from the center. While Zimmer praised Browning’s performance — on Saturday he declared: “Jake’s really smart. He’s vaccinated.” — the coach noted it was important to build in a variety of offensive schemes because “maybe this happens a few times during the year.”
“This delta variant is rough,” Zimmer said Saturday before a scrimmage notably lacking in quarterbacks. “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 get vaccinated]. But some people don’t understand, I guess.”