To say COVID-19 vaccinations is a hot topic in the NFL is a gross understatement. On one hand, you have Buffalo Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley publicly denouncing vaccinations, and on the other, you have the league and stiff financial penalties (and more) if a contest can't be played due to a breakout stemming from unvaccinated players -- followed by All-Pro wideout DeAndre Hopkins questioning his future in the NFL because of it. And now, in Minneapolis, the Minnesota Vikings have set a massive precedent of their own.
The Vikings reportedly parted ways with Rick Dennison, per Courtney Cronin of ESPN, the club's offensive line coach and run game coordinator. In his place, Minnesota will promote assistant O-line coach Phil Rauscher and hire Auburn special teams analyst Ben Steele as an assistant.
This marks the first instance of a team divorcing a coach due to the COVID-19 vaccine, but wasn't the last. Later on Friday, news came down that Cole Popovich, co-offensive line coach for the New England Patriots, will not be coaching the team in 2021 due to the NFL's requirements.
In Dennison's case, however, it seems the Vikings may have left the door open for him, as the team later released a statement.
"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," it reads. "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."
Earlier this summer, the NFL made it clear all Tier 1 staff must either be vaccinated or provide a religious or medical reason for abstaining. Absent those pardons, the staff member would be removed from Tier 1 status and prohibited from having direct interactions with players including, but not limited to, being in meeting rooms and on the sidelines. Of course, that would make it virtually impossible for someone like Dennison to do his job and, as such, he no longer has one in Minnesota.
The 63-year-old joined the Vikings in 2019 in his current role and has three Super Bowl wins under his belt prior to arriving -- a longtime assistant of the Denver Broncos who also spent time with the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills and New York Jets. Dennison carries a wealth of coaching experience, but unless he gets vaccinated, he won't be an option for any NFL team as a Tier 1 individual.
As for the Vikings, they'll hit reset going into training camp and hope Rauscher can simply step up and help newly-installed offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak get things ironed out. Dennison is a favorite and longtime friend of Kubiak from their time spent together in Denver, but Rauscher is entering his seventh season as an NFL assistant -- having joined the Vikings in 2020 to assist Dennison. And Kubiak does have familiarity with Steele, with Steels having played at tight end for end at one point in Houston.
The Vikings are looking to shock the world this season on the field but, first, they've achieved that goal off of it.