This article originally appeared on our sister-site, Vikingsterritory.com!
It was announced this week that former “core” Vikings defensive player Xavier Rhodes, who won’t turn 30 until June 19th of this year, turned down the Vikings to sign a one-year deal with the Indianapolis Colts. Now, I understand that most Vikings fans are of the “good riddance” mindset when it comes to Rhodes, who almost single-handedly ruined the 2019 season and therefore saw and immediately disregarded this news.
I almost did the same thing. However, I thought about it again and took it at face value and that’s where the red flag popped up and hit me right in the compromised immune system.
That Xavier Rhodes.
Turned the Vikings down.
It was reported at the time that the Vikings let both Rhodes and Linval Joseph go that, well, I’ll let Vikings general manager Rick Spielman explain:
“We are all grateful for their hard work and all they’ve done to help build our culture here in Minnesota. This decision comes now to allow Linval and Xavier to enter free agency prior to the start of the new league year. We are sincerely appreciative of their contributions and commitment and will remain in communication as all parties navigate free agency moving forward.”
Current (or still?) Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer (somehow?) added to this sentiment by saying:
“Xavier and Linval were key parts of building this team and establishing the Vikings defense the way we wanted, They’re pros and made everyone around them better. I wish them the best and I know Rick and the personnel staff will stay in communication with them during free agency.”
Zimmer rarely says things he doesn’t actually mean to the media (which apparently is part of the problem), so it really isn’t that big of a surprise that the Vikings did attempt to re-sign Rhodes.
When you factor in the fact that the Vikings are going to be paying Rhodes $4.8 million in dead cap space in 2020, it becomes even more obvious that it would’ve made a lot of sense for the team to retain Rhodes.
Sure, he had a TERRIBLE 2019 season, but he could’ve provided some depth at the position that currently has none (and he also could’ve, you know, at least contributed to the team that is paying him nearly $5 million in 2020 either way).
On the other hand, it isn’t a huge surprise that he’d opt for the “fresh start” in Indy, as he’s now getting paid by both the Vikings and Colts in 2020. But, you have to wonder why players like Rhodes and Mackenzie Alexander (who like Rhodes took a one-year “Prove it deal” elsewhere despite the fact that the Vikings attempted to retain them) are turning down a team that is lead by a supposed “cornerback guru” in Mike Zimmer.
When you throw in the palpable anger by secondary Swiss Army Knife Jayron Kearse, who made it VERY clear that he wanted out of Minnesota as soon as possible, and… You know what they say about smoke and fires.
When asked about the possibility of essentially losing every player that he’d spent years developing in the secondary, Zimmer said:
“If it is that way, then we just have to do a good job keeping guys in there and making sure they can play, we’re not going to cry because we don’t have some of those guys. Our job is to figure out how to get guys in there and get them to play.”
It looks like they didn’t do a good job of keeping guys despite the fact that Zimmer himself (very recently) stated that they had to do a “good job” doing just that. So, again, it’s our job in the media to ask why that hasn’t happened and then ask the logically follow up question which is, why should we trust those who by their own definition didn’t do a good job of keeping players, regardless of whether or not they’re going to “cry” about it.
To answer that question we’re going to have to travel through time and space. But before doing that, I want to reiterate something as I realize I’m threading a needle here. I am not saying that the SHOULD have kept either Rhodes or Mack, or Kearse. I am also aware that players like Diggs were crybabies and needed to go (I’ve written as much).
However, you have to wonder why players leave when the team is trying to keep them.
Beyond that, Zimmer’s system is known to have a huge learning curve for players in the secondary. With a 12-pick (as of the writing of this article) coming up, you have to ask whether or not Zimmer is the right guy to make selections that’ll impact this team for the next half-decade (if recent history is any indication).
All of this reminds me of Rhett Ellison, or rather his father, Riki (who took some time off from killing cobra’s to Tweet about Zimmer before the 2017 season). Riki, who was a linebacker in the NFL in the ’80’s, Tweeted about his son leaving the Vikings (among others… I’ll just let his since-deleted Tweet explain:
“Exodus of their draft picks out of the Minnesota Vikings in free agency – with a new stadium, new facility – statement on toxic leadership.”
Zimmer discussed this on KFAN back then and essentially said he called Riki Tiki and didn’t receive a call back and thus wasn’t aware what he was talking about (or which players he was discussing); an article from the BrainardDispatch.com from that period states:
“Riki Ellison would not name whom he was referring to but said he believed free agents have left the Vikings because of a better chance to win elsewhere. Eight Minnesota free agents have departed this month and only two have been re-signed, although the Vikings did not look to bring back all the free agents who left.”
Now, considering that a lot of people have pointed to the Week 17 game against the Bears as at least one of the reasons that Mackenize Alexander was cross with Zimmer (and company), as he was “forced” to play while nearly everyone else around him got to rest. A lot of this sounds like sour grapes, or really, something that recent guest on my podcast, Morning Joes, Mike Tice, talked about.
When Tice retired from the NFL recently he said that “players don’t want to be coached” anymore. That sounds like a generational issue, in the age of social media and the me, ME, MEEEEEE-esque climate it creates.
When you look at each player individually, it’s hard not to feel like there’s some credence to that theory.
Stefon Diggs- as my article at the time sums up… what did he have to be mad about? He got a max deal despite not eclipsing 1,000 yards or making a single Pro Bowl (at the time or since).
Jayron Kearse? What. He’s mad that he got arrested for a DUI with a gun in his car and the team did, what, continued to let him play? Beyond that, if he was mad about not getting more playing time that’s on him and not necessarily the team.
Mackenzie Alexander? He was an up-and-down player who had an… Surprise, Surprise, up and down 2019.
Xavier Rhodes? You all know how his season went.
So this raises a question and also nullifies another.
Zimmer is well known for being a disciple of Bill Parcells, who was an old school: “suck it up” sort of coach. After the Riki Ellison controversy, Zimmer asked recently retired team leader Chad Greenway (who ironically is set to be on Morning Joes next week (I’ll ask him about this)) how he could become a better, or more complete, head coach. Some of the feedback he received was that he needed to be less pointed in the media, as some players felt like he was “throwing them under the bus” in his press conferences.
That hasn’t really changed, as Zimmer is a what you see is what you get sort of guy. The question then is whether or not that’s the type of coach that can be successful in today’s NFL. After all, Vikings legend Bud Grant essentially said even back before the advent of manscaping/the internet (let alone social media) that the main job of the head coach was to manage personalities.
One could argue that Zimmer hasn’t done a great job of that. There are also gigantic questions regarding whether or not he’s the right man to helm this pending rebuild that the Vikings find themselves on the precipice of. Just in terms of X’s and O’s (leaving out any of the above), if it takes cornerbacks three-or-four years to acclimate to Zimmer’s system, and 2020 is the final year of his contract, why not go with someone else if we’ve already seen what the peak of Zimmer’s system can be (2017? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Spielman?).
But when it comes to managing personalities and the recent exodus, the…at least… second such in Zimmer’s time as head coach, it’s hard to fault the guy as especially with everything going on in the world right now, it’s hard to feel bad for millionaire cry-babies who get upset that their coach is mean to them (I played hockey in Minneapolis my entire life and some of my first memories are of coaches screaming profanities at my 11-year-old self for not running the right break out).
Then there’s the other side of it, which might argue that since it’s his job to get the most out of the players he himself had a hand in drafting/signing and that clearly hasn’t been the case, then why should we trust him moving forward? I mean, do other teams have these issues? Maybe an old school coach, in today’s NFL, just doesn’t (or clearly isn’t) work(ing)?
I know that people in Minnesota, a relatively blue-collar/stoic Scandanavian culture, have limited patience for this sort of thing. But, perhaps we need to look at this entire situation differently if we want to go from being slighty-better than average and actually, you know, win a championship at some point.
I’ll leave that answer to you as I’m absolutely exhausted and figure that I could maybe use this as an opportunity to direct people to our new “Social Distancing”-approved message board. I clearly don’t think Zimmer, from a scheme or execution standpoint, is the right person to lead the Vikings moving forward. But, I also don’t really feel bad for Diggs, or Kearse, or Ellison. So, I guess, really, the point to be gleaned from all of this is that its business as usual for the Vikings. It’s all just bad.
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