Following last week's report from ESPN that Minnesota Vikings assistant coach Rick Dennison was no longer on the team after refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, Dennison has reportedly been moved to a new role with the Vikings as part of an agreement.
Phil Rauscher will be the new offensive line coach for the 2021 season, and Dennison will take on a new role as senior offensive advisor.
Pro Football Talk said, "Vikings and OL coach Rick Dennison have reached an agreement that allows him to remain with the team, per source."
Basically, the Vikings and Rick Dennison have agreed that both sides will comply with whatever protocols apply, whether he’s vaccinated or not.
— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) July 27, 2021
"Rick is a football coach and he's got 40 years of experience doing what he's doing," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer told reporters Tuesday. "I felt like it was important that we use him as a resource, but we also give him the opportunity to continue to work. With the way the protocols are, he can't be around the players in person. But he has so much knowledge and so much experience that I felt like he could be a big help."
Zimmer said Dennison and the team have been in discussions during the offseason over his role with the team after Dennison's decision to not receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
"So basically, what he's going to be doing, he's going to watch the practice with the offensive coaches, he's going to be helping to evaluate," Zimmer said . "Little things like that. I've got [senior defensive assistant] Paul Guenther up there with me now and he'll sit in the meetings, we'll talk about 'Have you thought about doing it this way?' or 'Is he taking the right step on this particular run?' or 'Is he shooting his left hand the way he's supposed to do it?' So all those things are things I think he can really help us with. And then the next part, as we start getting ready for the games in the season, he'll be helping with game-plan ideas, third-down ideas, protection ideas, things like that."
On Friday, Courtney Cronin of ESPN reported that Dennison was no longer on the Vikings staff as an assistant coach after refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. For all Tier 1 staff — which includes coaches, front-office executives, equipment managers, and staff — the vaccine is a requirement unless they receive a medical or religious exemption.
However, after the ESPN report circulated online, the Vikings released a statement hedging on the development, saying they are still holding discussions with Dennison. "The Vikings continue to hold discussions with Offensive Line Coach Rick Dennison regarding the NFL-NFLPA COVID-19 Protocols for training camp and preseason games. At this time, Coach Dennison does not have an exemption to the vaccination requirements of those protocols. We will adhere to the requirements of the protocols and of applicable law," said the statement.
The ESPN reporter who broke the story responded to the development as well, saying, "Vikings appear to leave some door open that Dennison could be moved to a different role but the only way he could coach the way he's done his entire career — be on the field, interact with players, etc — i.e., not virtual coaching, would be if he receives a vaccine for COVID-19."
The news on Dennison's future with the team comes amidst an increase in COVID-19 cases across the U.S due to the Delta variant. In mid-June, when an estimated 30% of cases were attributed to Delta instead of 83% as they are now, the NFL released their protocols for training camps and for the 2021 NFL preseason.
While Dennison will remain with the team, the same cannot be said for New England Patriots co-offensive line coach Cole Popovich.
Popovich is reportedly no longer with the team " in a decision related to the COVID-19 vaccine and NFL guidelines."
Patriots co-OL coach Cole Popovich won't be with the team in 2021 in a decision related to the COVID-19 vaccine and NFL guidelines, per league sources. @globejimmcbride 1st reported Popovich won't be with the team.
Carmen Bricillo, co-OL coach in '20, takes on leading role.
— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) July 23, 2021
Last Thursday, the NFL released a memo highlighting the league's rules regarding COVID outbreaks during the season.
If a game cannot be rescheduled within the current 18-week schedule and is cancelled due to a Covid outbreak among non-vaccinated players on one of the competing teams, the club with the outbreak will forfeit the contest and will be deemed to have played 16 games for purposes of draft, waiver priority, etc. For the purposes of playoff seeding, the forfeiting team will be credited with a loss and the other team will be credited with a win.
The memo set off a firestorm on social media.
The highest-paid receiver in the NFL – DeAndre Hopkins — said his decision to not receive the vaccine was making him question his football future.
"Never thought I would say this, But being put in a position to hurt my team because I don't want to partake in the vaccine is making me question my future in the NFL," Hopkins said in a now-deleted tweet.
Hopkins — who later sent out a tweet saying he had "9 more years in me," — garnered support from multiple players for his initial statement.
"Some of y'all clearly didn't get what I'm saying here lol.. the NFL is pressuring/ 'influencing' guys to get the vaccine," NFL all-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey said on Twitter. "They are saying if there is an outbreak, the team will be penalized heavily. My point is no teammate of mine will feel that pressure from me because whether you are vaccinated or not, there is still a chance of getting covid. I thought my point was simple but I guess not lol. "
Joe Morgan is the Sports Reporter for The Daily Wire. Most recently, Morgan covered the Clippers, Lakers, and the NBA for Sporting News. Send your sports questions to [email protected]
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