The Future of the Vikings Might Depend on Aaron Rodgers’ Decision

Aaron Rodgers / Kirk Cousins
Nov 25, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) hug after the game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports

The cute dovetail for Minnesota Vikings fans pertaining to the Aaron Rodgers drama is to speculate that he will play in Minneapolis sometime after 2021.  That’s mostly a goofy talking point designed for fodder, to irritate Packers fans, or for a kickstart of some Brett Favre nostalgia. In all likelihood, Aaron Rodgers will not play for the Vikings.

However, his decision-making skills directly affect the future of the franchise. Since the end of April, Rodgers’ stiff-arm of Green Bay Packers management eclipsed anything to do with Deshaun Watson – or really anything else NFL-related. Rodgers did not show up at Packers mandatory minicamp in June, signaling a silent-but-loud confirmation of the reporting on his discontent. Vocally, Rodgers claims to love Packers fans, teammates, coaching, lore, etc. But he does have apparent beef with the general management of the franchise.

That creates a standstill for Packers football. Either Rodgers is being silly, fully planning to play in 2021 despite all the tomfoolery  — or all of this real. What does Rodgers have to gain by irritating his fanbase for giggles amid a five-month period?  It is the druthers of the Packers nation for Rodgers to indeed proclaim this is all a ruse. Otherwise, Green Bay must maneuver its first bout with mortality at the quarterback position in roughly 30 years.

Insert the Minnesota Vikings – and their self-inflicted high stakes for 2021.

Annually, the Vikings re-extend their Super Bowl window, setting up each upcoming season as an all-in year. 2021 is no different. In fact, the stakes are at an apex.

Head coach Mike Zimmer has skippered the enterprise for seven seasons with 2021 as the potential climax. If his squad underwhelms like the 2020 crew, well, it is probably time for a full shift in the team’s leadership. Zimmer has dazzled at times – particularly on defense – but another campaign sans playoff football is too much to swallow.

Make no mistake – this is not a prediction that the Vikings will miss the postseason. Zimmer’s roster is so thorough – compared to the pandemic season – that a playoff push feels mandatory. Consider it the advantageous fallout of signing players like Patrick Peterson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Xavier Woods, and Bashaud Breeland — while drafting vital offensive line pieces in Christian Darrisaw and Wyatt Davis. Those players will matter in 2021, erasing the memory of the injury-gutted roster of 2020.

The pathway to the Vikings prosperity is navigated more easily with Rodgers outside of the NFC North. It does not matter if he travels to Denver, Las Vegas, Mars, or Washington – if he’s “out of the way,” Minnesota, in the snap of two fingers, is anointed the NFC North frontrunner. The Chicago Bears will eternally showcase a good defense, and the Detroit Lions will eternally bottom-feed. Neither one of the teams is poised from a roster standpoint to outperform the Vikings over the course of a regular season. Perhaps if Justin Fields is Jesus-like out of the gate [a longshot], the conversation could change. But that isn’t probable, especially when Andy Dalton will start in Week 1, according to Bears boss man, Matt Nagy.

A Rodgers-less NFC North is the forecast, and Zimmer absolutely cannot let the division slide to an upstart Bears [or even Love-led Packers]. All excuses will exit the discourse, and that amplifies if Rodgers plays elsewhere. Injuries assuredly ravaged the Vikings 2020 hopes, but now the depth chart is stocked. The operation must not crumble in 2021, even in the event of injury. Kirk Cousins fourth year as a Viking will tuck in his belt after the 2021 season is over. By then, onlookers to the team and the internal personnel will have a sufficient sample size to determine his future.

The ante ahead of this season is defined. Even before the Rodgers disgruntlement news broadened, most Vikings loyalists held expectations that Zimmer would have to win the NFC North or make a deep playoff run. The team would, per this theory, follow his pattern of floundering in even years while excelling in odd years. Now is an odd year.

The absence of Rodgers inflames the intensity. To put it bluntly, it accelerates the pressure on Zimmer. The national media will take note of Rodgers’ absenteeism, shoving the Vikings to the top of the division based on roster talent. The sentiment could sound like something like, “If Zimmer can’t win the division without Rodgers in it, is he really the right guy moving forward?” That will, of course, be conveyed by folks in a starker fashion, maybe even laced with profanity.

Zimmer’s (and probably Cousins’, too) judgment day is the aggregate of the 2021 season. And Aaron Rodgers not playing for the Vikings primary foe manufactures more intrigue.

A Green Bay team with Rodgers is more than just “I’m glad he’s out of the division.” It puts all of the onus on the Vikings for 2021, mainly Mike Zimmer and Kirk Cousins.