Former Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen re-opened questions about the Vikings' 2018 offseason quarterback search over the weekend, tweeting – then deleting and apologizing – a negative opinion about Kirk Cousins and suggesting Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer never wanted Cousins on the Vikings in the first place.
"Ask ZIMMER if he wanted Kirk?????," Griffen said in the second of three tweets, adding in his final tweet: "He will tell you the truth??? Who wanted Kirk Cousins???? Take your guess???"
Though Griffen never answer his own question, the obvious insinuation/guess is that it was Vikings GM Rick Spielman who ultimately got his way when the Vikings pursued and signed Cousins to a three-year, fully guaranteed $84 million deal (one that has subsequently been extended through 2022).
In two later tweets, Griffen said: "I'm sorry for posting that about Kirk. It's not right for me to call people out. I apologize for hurting him. I'm very grateful and thankful. I'm sorry for saying anything negative. I love this organization. Vikings will always have a place in my heart. If you want it, go get it. All love for for real."
It's a little hard, though, to put that genie back in the bottle. (And you'll notice Griffen didn't take back what he said. He only felt bad for saying it.)
You'll recall that Griffen and the Vikings parted ways before the 2020 season after 10 seasons together. He signed with Dallas before being traded to Detroit in late October – with whom he played against the Vikings twice. The first time, he took exception to Zimmer calling him a "good" player in the week leading up to the game, which the Vikings won handily. The second time, Griffen's Lions allowed more than 400 yards passing to Cousins in a 37-35 Vikings victory.
But it was still a pretty jarring suggestion from Griffen, even if we are used to him creating a stir.
Then again, it's not really shocking to think that Griffen is correct about the Vikings' pursuit of Cousins if we recall how the 2018 offseason played out. Speaking at the scouting combine in Indianapolis in early March that year, Zimmer delivered this key quote:
"This year obviously the offense was much better, but part of the reason we've been winning games and staying in games is because we've been playing good on defense and we've been a smart team and all those things. I want to be really careful about taking away from our strength and saying, 'OK, we're not going to be able to do this and we're not going to be able to do that anymore because of financial reasons or something else.'"
Two weeks later, the Vikings gave Cousins the big money deal – eschewing lower-cost alternatives like trying to re-sign Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater, or even trying to draft a quarterback.
If we re-read Griffen's last two deleted tweets with that context, the conclusion of the full narrative is not necessarily that Zimmer didn't want or doesn't like Cousins specifically as a QB, but more so that he did not (and still does not) like the idea of a high-priced quarterback eating up cap space and other resources that could otherwise be spent maintaining strength on his side of the ball (a side that had led to 39 wins in his first four seasons as head coach). Maybe with a different choice in 2018, Griffen would still be with the Vikings?
The first deleted tweet, in which Griffen basically says he doesn't think Cousins is a good QB with one simple profane phrase, is another story – but we shouldn't necessarily mistake that as Zimmer's opinion of Cousins as well. (Pro Football Focus, by the way, would disagree with Griffen's assessment).
More so, this is a good reminder that however long Zimmer and Spielman remain in high positions of power with the Vikings, when it is all over the 2018 offseason will be recalled as their defining moment. Remember, that's also the offseason when – a little over a month before Cousins signed — John DeFilippo was hired as offensive coordinator. That has come to be viewed as a Spielman hire that Zimmer ultimately agreed to, and an experiment that lasted less than a full season.
Maybe we'll learn somewhere down the road that 2018 was the start of a power tussle between Zimmer and Spielman over the direction of the franchise.
For now, we know what the Vikings are: a team whose strength, at least in 2020, shifted from defense to offense. They are also a team that has used a lot of cap space and draft resources – six of their last nine picks in the top three rounds – on offense. And the result this season was a 7-9 record that can only in part be explained by defensive injuries. Whether the Vikings can become serious contenders again in 2021 will depend on both sides of the ball – and could determine the fates of Zimmer and Spielman.
At this point, it doesn't matter too much if Zimmer wanted Cousins. Barring some sort of unlikely trade, that's his QB now. But we should also remember something else he said back at the combine in 2018 about the quarterback search:
"It's important for myself and Rick and the organization that we pick the right guy that is going to help us to continue to move forward," Zimmer said. "If we don't do that, then I'll probably get fired."