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

Chris Simms reveals Nos. 15-16 in his QB Countdown and explains why Tennessee Titans' Ryan Tannehill's throwing ability and leadership style give him a slight advantage over Minnesota Vikings' Kirk Cousins.

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.