Vikings co-owner and president Mark Wilf joined coach Mike Zimmer's public battle cry, voicing concerns Tuesday morning about his team's unvaccinated players and a $31 million franchise quarterback who's been sidelined by COVID-19 protocols while seemingly refusing to get the shot.
"We're very concerned," Wilf said during his annual training camp news conference. "It's safe to say our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and ultimately the entire community. We're really encouraging people to take the vaccines."
Wilf said the health concerns align with the team's competitive concerns. Among the team's apparent vaccine resisters are starting quarterback Kirk Cousins, two of his backups and assistant coach Rick Dennison, who's gone from one of the league's more respected offensive line coaches to virtual consultant.
Wilf said ownership will continue stressing education and up-to-date information from the league with hopes that the vaccine holdouts relent. There appears to be a long way to go.
Though Wilf would not reveal the team's percentage of vaccinated players, a reporter for the Washington Post, citing an anonymous source, reported that the Vikings had the lowest vaccination rate in the league, at 70% with at least one shot and 64.5% fully vaccinated.
"Everyone has a choice to make and you got to game your own decisions," linebacker Anthony Barr said. "I think we're all very respectful of one another's decisions. There's never been any kind of division or conflicts. It's your choice to make and you live with the results."
Meanwhile, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy tweeted Tuesday, "The NFL hit the 90 percent mark today of players who are fully vaccinated or have had at least one shot. 9 teams are above 95% and 27 teams are 85+ percent."
Cousins is out because he came in close contact with backup quarterback Kellen Mond, who tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday. The earliest Cousins can return is Thursday, when he will have missed four practices.
With Mond, Cousins and No. 4 QB Nate Stanley on the COVID-19 reserve list, Zimmer was left with one quarterback — vaccinated No. 3 QB Jake Browning — for Saturday night's practice. The team was then forced to sign free agent Case Cookus and claim another quarterback, Danny Etling, off waivers on Monday.
Zimmer has not been shy in expressing his anger and frustration toward the unvaccinated persons.
"There are quite a few guys that are just against it," he said Monday. "I'm not going to be able to change their mind, so, it's like half the country, I guess."
Wilf indicated he would not be talking to Cousins one-on-one about getting the vaccine.
"All the conversations are really to the team," Wilf said. "That's the standpoint we come from."
Asked for his feelings about his head coach and franchise quarterback being locked in a potentially distracting stalemate, Wilf said ownership has "full confidence" that Zimmer, General Manager Rick Spielman and head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman are getting the necessary education and information they need.
"The competitive side is of course concerning," Wilf said when asked about the possibility of high-profile unvaccinated players missing a game because of COVID-19 protocols. "But our focus is on health and safety. We care about the players and the team."
On the field, Wilf said ownership once again is "really excited" because of improvements to a strong offense, "particularly on the offensive line," and a defense bolstered by veteran acquisitions, good health and a year of experience for last year's rookies.
"And having the fans back [in U.S. Bank Stadium] will be a huge competitive help for us," Wilf said. "We couldn't be more excited."
He also said the Vikings are eager to host national events again, having put in bids to host the NFL combine starting in 2023 and running through 2027. The combine will leave its longtime home in Indianapolis after the 2022 season and will start rotating to other NFL cities. The Vikings have bids in to host the NFL draft as well.
"I think we proved in Super Bowl LII that this community knows how to handle big events," Wilf said.