There’s a new twist in the story involving the exit of Mike Zimmer as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, at least for those outside of the organization. Zimmer, 66, was dismissed by the team following another disappointing season in 2021, and then came questions surrounding the future of quarterback Kirk Cousins, but Cousins and the Vikings instead agreed to a new deal — one former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber is completely fine with. But it’s what Leber revealed recently that’s creating headlines.
Having spent time on the team’s roster for years and still close with the ongoings to this day, Leber sees the three-time Pro Bowler as potentially delivering an explosive season in 2022, and not simply because of the change at head coach to former Los Angeles Rams offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, but also because Leber feels Zimmer and Cousins were never on the same page.
More directly, he feels Zimmer was at odds with having Cousins as his QB in the first place.
“I think he’s gonna finally thrive, really thrive, in a system and a coach that actually respects him,” Leber told Zach Gelb of CBS Sports Radio. “I mean, It’s not like I’m not breaking news here that Mike Zimmer did not like Kirk Cousins. And I think that showed in the way that Kirk behaved and the way that he carried himself. The team was never given to him, or he was never allowed to earn the trust of the team, because the head coach I think just didn’t like him.”
Cousins joined the Vikings in 2018 on a then-historic fully guaranteed deal, into a situation wherein Zimmer had been the head coach since 2014. The tandem finished with a combined four-year record of 33-31, and made the playoffs just once — losing handily in the divisional round to the San Francisco 49ers in 2019. It was clear there was a disconnect in the relationship, but Leber goes one step further in alleging Zimmer flat-out disliked Cousins and/or had little faith in his ability to carry the team.
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But the former NFL linebacker also points at other issues that led to disappointing recent seasons in Minnesota, also taking aim at the defense — keeping in mind Zimmer was always touted as a defensive guru — for leaving Cousins and the Vikings offense out to dry more than a time or two.
“That was a top-10 offense last year, with a very green, first-time offensive coordinator [Klint Kubiak],” he said. “Where was their defense ranked last year? Thirty-first. The year before that, I think they were ranked 27th. So people can rail on Kirk and rail on this offense and say we can’t win with him or we can’t win with this offense.
“I say that’s total BS. We couldn’t win with the crap defense that we’ve had the last two years. We couldn’t stop the run, at all — ever — and then in key moments of the games … we couldn’t stop any two-minute offense. So, to me, the biggest liability of this team has been defense.”
Leber believes that with Zimmer (and the accompanying fracture) now gone and if the defense plays to its potential, Cousins and Co. will make a lot of waves in 2022.
“All this team has to do is play good team defense, finish in the mid-teens at the end of the season, and they’re playoff bound and they can make some noise.”