Ben Leber: Mike Zimmer didn’t like Kirk Cousins, and it showed

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Former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber still knows the team very well. Among other things, he works the sideline for the team’s radio broadcasts.

So with the Vikings changing coaches but not quarterbacks, Leber has some opinions about how things may go for the team, and for Kirk Cousins.

“I think he’s gonna finally thrive, really thrive, in a system and a coach that actually respects him,” Leber recently 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.”

Leber also pointed out that the problems in Minnesota over the past two years had far more to do with the defense than the offense.

“That was a top-10 offense last year, with a very green, first-time offensive coordinator [Klint Kubiak],” Leber 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. 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.”

Yes, things like this get said about many teams that are 0-0. For the Vikings, however, it’s an interesting exercise in trying to figure out what went wrong in 2020 and 2021. Was Zimmer the problem? Was it Cousins?

Caught in the middle of a question that hovers over the 2022 Vikings is G.M. Rick Spielman. If Cousins thrives under new coach Kevin O’Connell, and if the team that Spielman built and that has been largely unchanged this offseason makes it to the postseason, Spielman will be vindicated.

While that won’t put him back in the job he held for well over a decade, it could make Spielman into one of the rare modern-day General Managers who receive a chance to build another team after their first stint comes to an inevitable conclusion.

52 responses to “Ben Leber: Mike Zimmer didn’t like Kirk Cousins, and it showed

  1. Good take from Ben- but Kirk’s teams has like a .250 winning percentage against teams with a winning record at the end of the season.

  2. The fact that Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman did not speak for months just shows how dysfunctional the Vikings were, and since the owners are from out of state they were unable to be involved with the team. Cousins was Spielman’s choice without any input from Zimmer. Most teams the GM and head coach consult on big issues like this. Spielman has just as much blame as Zimmer on this one.

  3. They extended Cousins, Zimmer and Spielman after it was apparent the QB and head coach didn’t like each other. Viking. esque.

  4. Career record in regular season: 59-59-2. Pure .500 QB. He did screw a lot of games in second half with fumbles and int’s. Perennial 4,000 yds passer with a lot of garbage yds. Solid 2nd tier QB in play action.

  5. What does not make sense to me is the quarterback is the key to your office so if you’re the head coach you need to be able to get that to work.
    Even if you personally don’t like the quarterback you need the quarterback to succeed so that the team succeeds and you keep your job.

    I also don’t know what it means that the team was not given to Kirk. No one is giving anything you have to earn respect of teammates.
    It’s not like the head coach tells everyone else not to listen to the quarterback.
    It sounds like both the coach and the quarterback had personality problems not just with each other but with the rest of the team

  6. Cousins always need a 3rd party to prop him up. If he was a real leader he would have won over the locker room in spite of the coach. Me first players rarely have great careers.

  7. Minn total offensive points in 2021, 425. Total points allowed, 426. That results in a middle of the pack record. I like O’Connell. Not my team but I think the Vikes needed a change.

  8. Team PR sent out one of the radio people to do the press run I see. He didn’t like him because he knew you can’t win a championship with a QB like that. He’s a DC; he knew.

  9. What was Kirk’s excuse in Washington, Ben? Normally I like most of Leber’s takes, but I don’t know how anyone who actually watches the games (rather than just looking at the stat sheet) can think so highly of Cousins. He has the physical tools, but melts down whenever everything around him isn’t perfect. Most intelligent Vikes fans were upset that they didn’t blow the whole thing up and move on from Cousins once O’Connell came in. The local shill play-by-play announcer and Cousins are Bible-Buddies, so the shill blindly praises Cousins despite what everyone else sees. Not sure why Leber has the blinders on also. Another year will be wasted at .500 with no Playoffs (or maybe a one and done).

  10. Zimmer didn’t like anybody, and it showed with Cousins and Jefferson. He could have turned Cousins and Jefferson loose in the last game and Jefferson would have had his record but he knew that was his last game and just to spite Jefferson he didn’t want him to have that rookie record and you could tell by that grin on his face when he was running off the field at the end of the game. Just pure mean, that’s what he did.

  11. Meanwhile Zimmer’s gonna take his buyout and weirdly hot girlfriend and ride off into the sunset.

  12. purplepridepolysemy says:
    July 17, 2022 at 10:17 am
    The fact that Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman did not speak for months just shows how dysfunctional the Vikings were, and since the owners are from out of state they were unable to be involved with the team. Cousins was Spielman’s choice without any input from Zimmer. Most teams the GM and head coach consult on big issues like this. Spielman has just as much blame as Zimmer on this one.
    ___
    I agree. They went from a 13-3 record in 2017 with Case Keenum, to a 8-7-1 record in 2018 with Cousins on a blockbuster contract. Zimmer never accepted that.

  13. I’ve said this for a long time that Zim was holding Cousins and the offense back. He’s so called great defensive mind ranked close to last the last two seasons. Under new management this team will be a lot better this season.

  14. Seems to me that Minnesota has a bad track record from way before Zimmer or Spielman got there. o and 61 for Super Bowl era…With a short window of relevance when Bud Grant was there but still 0 and 4.

  15. Even if he is some how “vindicated”, Rick Spielman is done as a GM. The league is going younger not only in head coaches but front office as well. He might latch on somewhere with a fancy title and be some kind of advisor.

  16. Nah, Counsins is terrible for the money the pay him every year, if he was cheaper then you may consider other factors but a expensive qb needs to bring way more to the table.

  17. I think Cousins will thrive. For us Vikes fans that follow things very closely. We knew there no relations between Zim and Cousins. I love Zim, but when the D fell apart few years back, so did he. But with the new regime, I feel alot better about Cousins than 4 years ago. Why run first when you may not have to? Dalvin is more than capable, but play the cards that have been dealt against the other D. Zim saying we are a run first time is pretty much saying stack the box. Just play and I think Cousins is capable of that. And the nay sayers talking about his record against winning teams. He is 1 of 22 starters and a handful of specifically selected special teamers. He less than 5% of the effort. So let’s give it a couple years with someone that very well could open things up for him.

  18. I think the Vikings will be a very dangerous team this year. Offense will put up big numbers. Depends if their Defensive Ends are on field or in rehab.

  19. Zimmer wanted a game-changer. Cousins is a game-manager. I don’t blame Zimmer when he was force-fed Cousins.

  20. 13-3 record and they changed QBs because that was “all they needed to put them over the top.” Maybe that’s why Kirk never wants to win too many games. Fastest way to get replaced over there.

  21. Cousins isn’t their problem. The Defense was/is the Vikings downfall. How many Defensive Backs can you draft in the 1st 2 or 3 rounds and have them fail ?? Especially knowing Zimmer is a Defensive Coordinator by training. QB’s just fried the Vikings defensive backs week after week.
    Spielman was not good at drafting. Sure he’s pick some good ones,… no doubts. But a blind squirrel occasionally finds a nut too. And after this past draft,..by the looks of it,… this new GM isn’t much better.
    Time will tell,… eh?

  22. Zimmer wanted a game-changer. Cousins is a game-manager. I don’t blame Zimmer for feeling the way he did, considering he was force-fed Cousins.

  23. Whose fault was it that the defense failed? Was it Zimmer’s fault that Danielle hunter injured his neck? That Xavier Rhoades flaked out? That Cousins had such a huge contract that they couldn’t bring in high end FA’s? Was it Zimmer’s fault that 4 corners busted? That none of our QB’s had a decent offensive line? That the defenders we were drafting were the likes of Chaz Surrat, Patrick Jones, Janarius Robinson, DJ WOnum, James Lynch, Kenny Willekes, Armon Watts, Jaylan HOlmes, Ade Aurna, Jaleel Johnson, Ben Gedeon, Ifadi Ogdenibo, Stephen Weatherlyand Kentrell Brothers? How about this list of winners at QB: Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, Case Keenum and of course .500 Kirk? Didn’t realize Kirk’s record at Washington was Zim’s fault too.

    This narrative where we are blaming Zimmer for everything needs to stop. His defense got old and the GM didn’t give him the tools to replenish it. Zimmer even warned us that his defense was getting too thin last year.

  24. When Zimmer called Bobby Petrino a “gutless #%£€,” he was only pointing out the obvious; but it basically made him everybody’s favorite tough talker for long enough to get a shot as a HC.

    After years of playing that guy at the podium during pc’s something else started to become obvious. He didn’t actually like very many of his players or coworkers. Tough guy talk might suggest that a guy is good head coaching material, but it isn’t the only thing necessary for being a good head coach.

    In other words, I don’t like Kirk Cousins all that much either, but if he was my qb, I’d find a way to work with him. He’s more than talented enough to get the job done.

  25. I don’t know if Ben is right but he’s closer to the situation than I am so I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Does that mean everything was Zimmer’s fault? Absolutely not. But I follow this team closely and in 2021 you would have a hard time pinning many of those 9 losses directly on poor quarterback play. The only one I can think of off the top of my head was week #4 against the Browns. I’m personally so tired of these Cousins arguments I advocated moving on from him but there’s no doubt the team would have been decidedly worse without him.

  26. It wasn’t all Zimmer’s fault. But he deserves his fair share of the fail. Hard to put a lot of blame on him for 2016 and the Bradford experience. They would’ve been better with Teddy… but probably not a lot. 2018… I’ll put mostly on Kirk. The last two seasons is on Zim and Spielman. They didn’t collaborate enough. Simple as that. The defense was the outstanding problem. Not good enough players and Zimmer not good enough coaching.

  27. In 2021 at least two losses were on bad coaching decisions.
    They missed the playoffs by one game.

  28. That sideline dust up after the Lions game proved that. Dysfunction on display. Seems like Kirk has carried the team the last couple of seasons. Far fewer hit or miss games. He’s due for a big year.

  29. Sign him to an extension! Clearly Kurt is the future! Y’all wondering why this team is a perpetual loser. It’s logic like Ben’s. Good take Ben.

  30. Age, poor draft picks and bad luck with injuries to key players on the defensive side of the ball were the biggest problems with the Vikings the last 2-3 seasons.

    It’s not to say there weren’t other issues (see: offensive line), but I think those were the biggest ones.

  31. Mile you are forgetting one very important thing and that is that the Vikings are in fact not actually trying

  32. When has Cousins had an offensive line that could protect him. It’s only by the grace of God that the man did not get hurt.
    I’m anxious to see what an offensive minded coach can do with all the talent that this team has.

  33. ==If Cousins thrives under new coach Kevin O’Connell, and if the team that Spielman built and that has been largely unchanged this offseason makes it to the postseason, Spielman will be vindicated.==

    The team is not “largely unchanged.” It has a new head coach. This is most dramatic change possible. If Cousins thrives, thus helping the team thrive, it will be a testament to KOC. Spielman will not be part of the equation at all.

  34. cam180 says:
    July 17, 2022 at 11:16 am
    purplepridepolysemy says:
    July 17, 2022 at 10:17 am
    The fact that Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman did not speak for months just shows how dysfunctional the Vikings were, and since the owners are from out of state they were unable to be involved with the team. Cousins was Spielman’s choice without any input from Zimmer. Most teams the GM and head coach consult on big issues like this. Spielman has just as much blame as Zimmer on this one.
    ___
    I agree. They went from a 13-3 record in 2017 with Case Keenum, to a 8-7-1 record in 2018 with Cousins on a blockbuster contract. Zimmer never accepted that.
    ——————————————————————————-
    That same 8-7-1 Cousins had a better completion percentage, yards per game, TD per game … Never mind that they had one of the worst rushing attacks, or that their star pass rusher from the previous year wasn’t available for 5 games.

  35. Spielman was fired because his defensive drafting since 2016 was atrocious and he couldn’t fix the interior offensive line that plagued us basically since Hutchinson retired.

    He’s a great guy though. I don’t think many Vikings fans cheered when he was fired. It was not something anybody wanted to happen because Rick seems like such a good person but it was the right move to just start fresh.

    Zimmer wanted Bradford to retake the snaps in 2018 while Teddys knee possibly healed up, and ultimately wanted Teddy to come back if possible. Zimmer was a Teddy guy because Teddy wasn’t a downfield passer. With Teddy, you run the ball a lot more, which is zimmers style. Cousins is almost a polar opposite of Teddy in terms of his playing style: elite downfield passer limited by lack of pocket mobility, while Teddy is a dink and dunker who doesn’t throw downfield and can scramble.

    I agree with Leber: cousins could potentially have a stafford type year with a coaching staff that harnesses his abilities instead of handcuffing them. And the defense was awful because in 2020 we had in same injuries and 2021 we lost Hunter again and the secondary was so so slow. We got some speed again at safety and corner with Cine and Boothe.

    I don’t think Zimmer “didn’t like cousins” in terms of the kind of QB that Zimmer wanted. I don’t know how anybody could not like cousins, he is genuinely the nicest dude you’ll probably every meet.

  36. Nobody here can figure out that zimmer was blowing games on purpose. That was his job. He’s the defensive genius yet the D sabotaged the team. this is the NFL. Play your role in the script, get paid. Shut up.

  37. Patially vindicated, he still can’t draft an offensive lineman, should have hit way more, with the number of draft picks spent. Back-ups are weak, get a starter or at least a 2nd stringer, instead of 2-3 guys that might make the team. You don’t need that many picks.
    OR it’s a cheap budget move – a directive from ownership???

  38. from what i can remember zimmer was even more open about his dislike for case keenum….everybody knew keenum wasn’t a long term answer but come on, the guy won football games for you. same for kirk. sounds like many people throughout the vikings organization was ready for a fresh voice leading the team.

  39. Zimmer’s an over rated blowhard. His defenses in Cincy were no great shakes either

  40. All this career .500 stuff. Fran Tarkenton, who is still revered in Minnesota, was considered a good but career .500 quarterback. He was .500 in Minnesota and then was .500 with the Giants. He then came back to a Minnesota team that had since beomce a playoff powerhouse and went .500 again his first season back. Can you imagine the message boards if that were today?

    There were circumstances, he started on an expansion team and had a dysfunctional relationship with his coach in Minnesota (the Dutchman also hated everyone) and the Giants team he dragged to .500 was one of the worst collections of talent in the league. And when he got back the team was going through a lot of defensive injuries. He then lead them to 3 superbowls in 4 years, winning NFL MVP the year he didn’t get there.

  41. Cousins is part of a group of 2nd tier QBs, like Ryan Tannehill, who think they are much better than they actually are. As another poster here pointed out, game managers, not game changers.

  42. Frauds like Zimmer were propped up by frauds in the media. They’re the same people that talked about Adrian’s handshake and then had nothing to say when he put the ball on the ground four times in the NFC title game.

  43. Zimmer may not have been the greatest head coach, but he had every right to not like the Cousins deal. The reason the defense sucked, is Speilman hamstrung the roster for a .500qb with mediocre pocket presence. Cousins is not going to be any different than he’s ever been. He’ll put up numbers, but when the heat is on, he’ll crumble.

  44. Career record in regular season: 59-59-2. Pure .500 QB. He did screw a lot of games in second half with fumbles and int’s. Perennial 4,000 yds passer with a lot of garbage yds. Solid 2nd tier QB in play action.
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    Garbage yards? Not true at all.

  45. If Keenum was so great what happened to him after the first quarter in the NFC Title game in Philly? Why did he flame out in Denver and has not won a starting job in the NFL since?

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