The Vikings on Friday placed quarterback Kirk Cousins on the COVID-19 reserve list after he tested positive, and he will miss Sunday night’s key game at Green Bay.
Cousins is unvaccinated. According to NFL protocols, he must quarantine at least five days.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said that backup quarterback Sean Mannion will start Sunday in place of Cousins. Mannion, who is fully vaccinated, was activated Friday off the COVID-19 reserve list and returned to practice after missing workouts Wednesday and Thursday. He was placed on the list last Sunday shortly before Minnesota’s 30-23 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Minnesota players have talked all week about how the game is must win for the team to stay in the playoff race. The Vikings (7-8) could be eliminated from the race with a loss to the Packers (12-3), who would be assured of the top seed in the NFC if they win their final two games.
“We hate to see that happen that happen to Kirk but he’s done a lot of great things,” Zimmer said. “And Sean is a really good football player and we’re expecting him to go out and play really well.’’
Mannion, in his third season with the Vikings and seventh overall, has completed 45 of 74 career passes but has never thrown for a touchdown. His only action for Minnesota was starting the 2019 finale at Chicago when the Vikings had a playoff berth wrapped up and Cousins and other starters rested. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 126 yards with two interceptions in a 21-19 loss.
The Vikings also have rookie quarterback Kellen Mond and Kyle Sloter, who was re-signed on Tuesday after the being on the Vikings’ active roster in 2017 and 2018. Neither Mond nor Sloter has appeared in an NFL regular-season game. Zimmer said he didn’t give any consideration to starting Mond.
“There really wasn’t,” Zimmer said. “We knew Sean was coming back. Sean is extremely bright. He studies like crazy. He’s a great competitor. So he’s put in his time, he’s earned this opportunity and I think he’ll do great.”
Zimmer said he doesn’t know if Cousins has any symptoms. He said he texted with the quarterback on Friday but that going on the COVID list was not discussed.
“I haven’t asked if he’s got any symptoms and I wasn’t told that he had any,” Zimmer said.
Sunday’s game will mark the second in a row that a high-profile Vikings player who is unvaccinated will miss a game. Running back Dalvin Cook tested positive and was played on the COVID list on Dec. 23 before sitting out against the Rams. Cook was activated off the list Wednesday and will play at Green Bay.
“Every day is different,” Zimmer said. “Somebody’s getting it. You’re always hopeful that none of your players get it but that hasn’t the case throughout the season. … The way it was going obviously with the Omicron now it’s way different than it was at the beginning of the season but I was more concerned about the players’ health more so than losing football games or not having a player for that. I didn’t really want their families to get sick and get really sick. It’s changed. They’re so many people that are getting it now, it’s just part of life.”
After the game against the Rams, Cousins was asked about the team’s COVID situation.
“At this point, you just have to follow the protocols, be disciplined and there’s a lot of people not testing,” Cousins said. “So it’s in our building. It’s going to be in our building. It’s going to spread. We just got to be disciplined to keep our distance and make sure that to the best of our ability we don’t get it but it is going to be difficult.”
It’s the second time this year that Cousins has been on the COVID list but the first time he has tested positive. He was on the list for five days during training camp after being dubbed a close-risk high contact. That was due to his proximity to Mond, who was also unvaccinated and had tested positive. Mond spent 10 days on the COVID list in training camp.
“I’m going to be vigilant about avoiding a close contact,” Cousins said in August when he returned from being on the COVID list. “I’ve even thought about, should I just set up literally plexiglass around where I sit, so this could never happen again? I’ve thought about it, because I’m going to do whatever it takes.”
Later in August, former longtime NFL quarterback Josh McCown spoke with the Pioneer Press about the possibility that Cousins could miss game action due to being unvaccinated. McCown said it “takes away from some of your ability to lead.”
Zimmer said Friday he believes the Vikings could rally around Mannion taking over for Cousins.
“I talk to the team all the time,” Zimmer said. “I talked to them a couple of times (Friday) morning. We’ll talk to them (Saturday). I think they’re going to rally behind Sean. They know how important this game is and they believe in Sean.’’
The Vikings on Friday also activated tackle Rashod Hill off the COVID list.