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With Rhodes also spurning the Vikes’ Reunion Plans, why should Zimmer be allowed to Rebuild this Defense?

On "Toxic" Leadership and Millienials in the NFL

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.

Xavier Rhodes.

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.”

Vikings cut Xavier Rhodes, Linval Joseph, clear more than $18 million of cap room

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).

What exactly did you have to be mad about Diggs?

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).

2020 Vikings a 5-Win Team?

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 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.”

Sound familiar?

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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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started back in 2015 & in 2019, and purchased before the 2017-18 season , used to write for and is the host of the ’Morning Joes’ & ‘About the Labor’ Podcasts, as well. Follow on Twitter: @vtPTSD

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9 months ago

I don’t think this is an indictment on Zimmer, I think Rhodes can get a better deal on the open market and the Vikings weren’t willing to spend money on a CB who has steadily declined over the past 2 seasons. Their tendering him an offer says nothing other than they will give him another chance at a very discounted price.

9 months ago

What about Barr? If players don’t like playing for Zim, why did he come back?

All the corners that left, either left for more money and/or playing time. If I was Rhodes, playing in a zone scheme as you mention in your article, seems to be better fit. He has been getting torched last two years. He was never a speed guy, so him leaving is not surprising. Probably a little bitter about being cut too? I know I would be after being in one place for all my career.

Randy Boschee
Randy Boschee
9 months ago

Rhodes would not be able to return to form in Zimmer’s system. He needed a change in schemes to have any chance of returning to a productive level ! Add to that 5mil from the Cost is lots more than the Vikings would have offered.

Gbolahan Olaogun
Gbolahan Olaogun
9 months ago

I tend to disagree. We’ve seen countless players come back to the team on player friendly deals. That’s not the norm. Minnesota will never be an attractive destination city, most of these players are coming from the south. It can weigh on you living in sub temperature when your from that background. The point is there’s a lot of factors in play when discussing why players leave.
Jayson was pissed because he could very well be in Anthony Harris position to get paid but Zimmer trusted Harris more than Kearse. For good reason.
Mack was hurt and was asked to play and that pissed him off.
We were never bringing Trae back for that money.
Xavier severely regressed and imploded on the sidelines a few times.
These are all case by case examples.
Stefan wants to be the guy. He was to be the #1 option in offense and he realized with Thielen and Cook he never would be.
There is so much turnover every year in pro sports and this reason why this has been a story is because the Vikings did an unusually good job of retaining the majority of their players.
Embrace the change, the talent level in college is getting better and we’ll find guys to supplement the loss of production from the guys that left.

9 months ago

Zimmer is not the problem. The secondary leaving is a result of either bad play for what they make, can’t afford to keep them at what FA prices they’ll get from other teams, or that the younger players want more playing time like Kearse. They went all in the last couple years pushing them to be over the cap this year. Yes, no Super Bowl, but I think even with how elite their D was a couple years removed now, not many teams in history get there without a good offense. They made the playoffs, but they got beat for one reason or another. Missed kicks after Teddy leads them down into field goal range against Seattle. No one showed up to play in Philly. This past year just got beat by a top 5 Offense and top 5 Defense. They’re going back to what they do pretty well in the Rick Spielman era and draft well. They haven’t done much in FA as they just don’t have the money. I would like to see them trade Harris for good picks to replenish the depth charts, or if they can’t get good value for him or great like with the Diggs trade, to play him and possibly franchise him again next year and try to get picks for him again. Also, I think the nose tackle from Baltimore will be the next Lindvel. Still need to find a 3-tech that can play next to him. 2020 Draft priority needs – corner, 3-tech DT, OT, WR. I’d like them to keep beefing up the O-line and continue 2 TE sets. Run, run, run. Zimmer is 1b in coaches in my lifetime right behind Denny Green. If you want to go back to Mike Tice, who I like just not as a head coach, or Childress then I think you should stick to watching hockey or NBA. You’re not thinking about if we let Zimmer go then who replaces him. He’s made touch coaching personnel choices on the Offensive side of things, but it is unrealistic to expect the 85′ Bears or 2000 Ravens from Zimmer year in and year out. I think this year the Offense could be better as a whole with some good draft picks, and most likely the Defense will hopefully maintain middle of the pack status or better. Skol

Todd Daniel
Todd Daniel
9 months ago

Rhodes had become a liability on the field. Rhodes could not run and keep up with receivers bc anymore and would bite hard on receivers fake moves and they left in the dust. It all started in the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles. The next 2 season after that he got consistently worse. Last year it was unbearable watching him try to defend a receiver an open field. is the Viking said they were interested in bringing Xavier Rhodes back it was only out of respect for his past service and nut actually realistic that they wanted to even bring him back is a backup or sloth defensive back. The reality is that Xavier Rhodes and too many leg injuries that hampered his ability to run over the past two and a half seasons. The Vikings couldn’t pay his extremely high salary and are better off without him and starting fresh with a rookie defensive back then leaving him on the field as a liability. They didn’t want to kick him to the curb but he is not able to perform even at an average level anymore and the Vikings are hard up against the salary cap and needed to make some room and some cuts needed to be made.