Rick Spielman Reveals the Undoing of Mike Zimmer’s Rookie Season

Rick Spielman
Jun 15, 2021; in Eagen, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman. Mandatory Credit: Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports.

Eight years ago, the vibe surrounding the Minnesota Vikings wasn’t all that different from the summer of 2022. Mike Zimmer was finally getting his shot at a head coaching gig, courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings, after a successful defensive coordinator stint with the Cincinnati Bengals.

While Zimmer eventually led the Vikings to the league’s 10th-best record from 2014 to 2021, his career in Minnesota wasn’t gangbusters out of the gate. Although the team markedly improved from 2013 to 2014, the Vikings still finished 7-9 in 2014 and missed the postseason.

And according to Zimmer’s old boss, Rick Spielman, who was fired on the same day as Zimmer six months ago, there was one primary culprit for the undoing of the 2014 season — Adrian Peterson.

Dalvin Cook & Adrian Peterson
Oct 24, 2019; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson (26) talks with Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

As the 2014 season was beginning, Peterson was indicted by a grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. He later pled no contest to the misdemeanor charge of recklessly assaulting his son, as he used a wooden branch or “switch” for discipline. Peterson was fined, put on probation, and mandated 80 hours of community service.

He was also ultimately suspended for most of the 2014 season, Zimmer’s maiden voyage. Spielman, who now writes for The 33rd Team, likened Peterson’s 2014 situation to the current legal fracas involving Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. Like Peterson, Watson is expected to encounter a lengthy suspension this year — but for alleged sexual misconduct with numerous massage therapists.

Jun 14, 2022; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports.

Comparing Watson in 2022 to Peterson in 2014, Spielman wrote, “When I was with the Vikings in 2014, Adrian Peterson was deactivated and eventually suspended by the commissioner. When the news first came out, our team was distracted, which led to a bad loss in Week Two to New England. The distraction combined with losing such a critical piece to our offense affected us for the rest of the year. Cleveland’s roster must be able to silence the noise and remain focused on winning, which will be difficult to do.”

And if “anybody would know,” it would be Spielman. Peterson’s absence from the 2014 squad had a ginormous impact as a run-first coach was forced to rely on the passing acumen of Matt Cassel and then-rookie Teddy Bridgewater. Peterson had led the NFL in rushing yards from 2007 to 2013, so Zimmer pivoting to life without him was daunting — especially for a coach who would later be known as “hands-off” on offense in the first place.

Regardless, the Vikings notched noteworthy improvement in 2014, even without Peterson. The future Hall of Famer departed the Vikings after the 2016 season, began repair to his reputation, and later signed with six other NFL teams from 2017 to 2021.

When Peterson returned from suspension in 2015, the Zimmer version of the Vikings would visit the postseason thrice in seven years. Zimmer’s only two playoff triumphs were against the rival New Orleans Saints.

The Vikings cut ties with Spielman and Zimmer on January 10th.

Peterson, 37, remains a free agent as of July. Later this month, he steps into a boxing ring with Le’Veon Bell in Los Angeles for an exhibition bout.


Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sally from Minneapolis. His Viking fandom dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).