Offensive Line Play, Not Vax Status, Will Determine Vikings Fate in 2021

Photo: David Berding – Getty Images

It’s been nearly a decade since the Minnesota Vikings have had a competent offensive line able to protect its quarterbacks from being pulverized at every drop back. And beyond a newly extended Brian O’Neill, questions surrounding those five offensive trench positions are more bountiful than ever.

Many in the media, however, would rather sell vaccination status storylines that pin the fate of the Vikings’ season on NFL rules that don’t always follow the science of how COVID-19 spreads. Data tells us that vaccinated people can contract and spread the virus (fully vaccinated countries are hitting record highs in cases) too, yet the league has MUCH stricter quarantine and mask-wearing procedures for their unvaccinated players. Why?

Then, those same media members (with plenty of help from Mike Zimmer) want to turn that vaxxed vs unvaxxed fight into locker room consternation that we don’t know exists. Yes, we know the head coach wants everyone vaccinated. He doesn’t want to worry about unfair rules effecting the availability of his unvaxxed players. But beyond what Zim has expressed in press conferences, we don’t actually know if the vaccination status of certain guys is stirring up controversy within TCO Performance Center. More importantly, the Vikings locker room.

What we should worry about

We do know the Minnesota Vikings offensive line was bad again last year. We also know that one of their two competent offensive linemen, Riley Reiff, now plays for Cincinnati. So, he’ll be on the field Sunday but not in a Vikings uniform. His replacement plan, 1st round draft pick Christian Darrisaw, hasn’t taken a practice snap yet because of a lingering injury.

Unless a miracle has unfolded during training camp, suddenly turning Oli Udoh and Rashod Hill into the starting-caliber offensive linemen that they’ve never been, the vaccine status of Kirk Cousins isn’t going to matter. He’ll be at home with broken bones and we’ll be stuck watching a 4-13 football team led by Sean Mannion.

So let’s focus on the things that realistically have a shot at torpedoing the 2021 Vikings. Panicking over the vaccine status of Kirk Cousins or other stars along the offense and defense makes no sense. But then again, neither does writing fluff pieces on Rashod Hill and Oli Udoh, who we all hope play as few downs as possible, vs hit pieces on a QB you can’t win without.

Welcome to 2021.

Anything can happen

This blog isn’t refuting anything written about “what could happen” if Kirk Cousins were to become a “close contact” or contract COVID-19 during the season. If that were to happen, he’d be forced to sit out of team activities for a longer period of time than someone who’s vaccinated. Yes, that could happen. But if we’re that upset about it, shouldn’t we also be questioning the premise behind the rules, especially if those rules don’t make sense?

Missing a week or two because of COVID-19 isn’t going to doom the Minnesota Vikings season anyway. I’m not going to speculate about a playoff or super bowl COVID absence. And it’s worth mentioning again: we’ve seen elsewhere in the NFL and around the world, vaccinated people can contract and spread the virus too. We have no idea what next week will look like in this world, let alone multiple months from now.

Much like an injury to the wrong player at the wrong time, COVID could impact the Vikings’ season. But the likelihood of it happening in a large way is being unsurprisingly overblown. If you want to look for something that could derail the season, look in a familiar spot: the offensive line.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan