The team building philosophy of Zimmer/Spielman/Zimman/Spielmer
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Let’s face it. The 2020 season has been an unmitigated disaster for the Minnesota Vikings. As one of the few people in Vikings media who saw this coming (there are a lot of examples of me predicting this, but you can click HERE to see my 2020 season prediction, or HERE to listen to me say similar things on Bob Sansevere’s BS show), I feel like I have some credibility in this department.
As such, I think it’s time that we talk about who is responsible for this 1-5 start, as while the Vikings have been hit by a bad trifecta/combination of the injury, COVID opt out and salary cap squeeze, it’s also apparent that this Vikings team hasn’t been anywhere near prepared for the majority of the opponents it’s faced this year.
So, let’s take a look at the case FOR firing not only head coach Mike Zimmer, but also for firing general manager Rick Spielman. Does that mean either or both will be fired? Of course not, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be. You may also be asking why I’m bundling the two together. To that, I’d answer that there are few general managers/head coaches that are as intertwined as Zimmer and Spielman. They were both extended this off-season, but Spielman clearly takes a lot of direction from Zimmer in the draft and free agency, and so their fortunes (and the fortunes of the team, obviously) are very much one-in-the-same.
With the team ownership giving both more than any other GM/HC duo on the league (new stadium, new state of the art headquarters, every free agent they’ve wanted, etc.), we should look at both and ask whether or not they’ve done enough to warrant ownership/the fans sitting by as they attempt to improve upon this gigantic disaster of a season.
I think you know my answer.
While it may seem early, considering the above-referenced extension(s), I’ll remind you that Brad Childress was fired about a year after his extension. I’ll explain further why I think that Zimmer/Spielman should be gone after the season, let’s start by looking at the present through the lens of the past.
1. Their approach to team building
One of the main reasons I was confident that the 2020 Vikings would be a sub .500 team was the fact that they only mustered an 8-7-1 and 10-6 record in the previous two seasons despite having one of the best position-by-position teams in franchise history.
After an off-season of blood letting at more positions than not, I openly balked at fans, writers and even those in the betting realm that had the Vikings IMPROVING on their 2019 record. Don’t believe me? Check any site/state where sports betting is legal, where it’s an Iowa site or Indiana Bet, and you’ll see that the over/under was at minimum 9.5 wins.
If not for the terrible offensive line (27th ranked in pass protection in 2019), you could make a strong argument that this was the most balanced Vikings team since the Purple People Eaters. But that’s just it. You can’t ignore the offensive line, either when to comes this argument or especially when it comes to building a (winning) roster.
Many have said this week that Spielman should be fired for not only signing quarterback Kirk Cousins, but especially for extending him. While you could make that argument, I’d say that the more damning (non)move is the fact that Spielman and Zimmer decided to break the bank to sign (and then resign) Cousins, but did nothing to protect him upfront.
Time and time again, Zimmer and Spielman decided to invest money and/or draft picks elsewhere when it was clear that with some semblance of time Cousins could sling the ball at a level good enough to elevate this offense to perhaps not elite levels, but damn near close.
Things got so bad in 2019 that Cousins literally had to roll out of the pocket, or rather where the pocket normally would be, in order to complete a pass. It became so normalized that we would spend time after a loss, like the week after losing to a Patrick Mahomes-less Chiefs team, berating Kevin Stefanski for not doing just that (as opposed to stopping and saying, what other teams are doing this?).
So how did Zimmer and Spielman respond after a season where that was the norm and in an off-season where they had a record amount of draft picks? By doing more of the same.
They cut Josh Kline, who was leaps and bounds above the guards that the Vikings have utilized in 2020, and then waited until the literal pick before Mr. Irrelevant to draft a guard. Sure, Ezra Cleveland played guard last weekend, but that’s the first time he’d ever done so IN HIS LIFE. Which exemplifies the team building philosophy of Zimmer and Spielman.
Draft corners. Ignore interior offensive lineman and ruin tackles by moving them inside (despite the fact that guys like Cleveland, or Mike Remmers, have never played inside before). You can look at the impetus of these problems, 2016, to see how the Vikings build the most important position group in the NFL.
Everyone chalked the post bye collapse that year on the Vikings curse. But, curses aren’t real, and the collapse was actually based on the continued lack of investment in the offensive line. The Vikings brought in over 30, injury prone tackles Jake Long and Andre Smith, and then were surprised when they… GASP… got injured.
Imagine if your Pontiac Fiero’s check engine light was on, and it was leaking a quart of oil a day and overheating twice a week. If you took it on a road trip to California and it broke down in Iowa, would you say “I have bad luck!”
Of course not.
Well, the Vikings offensive line is that Fiero. Except it overheats because they keep replacing their radiator with a battery.
So, the fact that Zimmer and Spielman not only showed they’d learned nothing from their successes and failures, but essentially doubled down on the latter, by drafting FIVE defensive backs in April and one actual guard (their last pick) while resigning Cousins to a deal that’d make his 2022 $45 million fully guaranteed after Day 3 of the 2021 season, is a disaster that should cost both their job.
This is after the Vikings didn’t draft an offensive lineman before the 4th round from 2013-2017. So, they’ve had to overspend in free agency while having no depth or youth, and on top of that they then ruin any semblance of depth by moving tackles to guard. It’s the same thing over and over and at this point the defense (and Cousins) aren’t playing well enough to help compensate for a terrible offensive line.
Case in point, Ezra Cleveland had a 43 rating from PFF Sunday and it was considered an improvement. Yikes. That’s after a camp in which Vikings offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak spoke openly about breaking Cleveland from falling back on what he was comfortable doing. Why? Why break your second round pick from what you drafted him to do? Those tendencies are due to his playing tackle his entire life, so like others before him, they risk not only having him be a bad guard, but also essentially TJ Clemmings-ing him and ruining his potential at tackle as well.
What did the Vikings draft instead?
Well, they’ve used four First round picks (and a second) on corners Xavier Rhodes, Trae Waynes, Mike Hughes, Jeff Gladney and Mackenzie Alexander. They also used five picks of their 15 in April on DB’s. Would you argue that those picks were worth the bad line play?
Because had they traded down in 2018 instead of taking Hughes, they could’ve had more than one plug and play interior offensive lineman before taking Brian O’Neill in the second. Austin Corbett, Braden Smith, Will Hernandez, James Daniels, Connor Williams. Imagine.
The issue there is that I can’t imagine anyone would want to replace Zimmer as head coach. But that doesn’t mean that he should get a pass. Because as we’ll see in the second part of this series, this team has seemingly given up on him.
Stay tuned for that tomorrow!