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FFL: Preseason | NFL: Week 1

Vikings owner on league-low vax rate: 'We're very concerned'

Tue Aug 3 8:16pm ET
AP Pro Football Writer

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Whop Philyor (16) and quarterback Kellen Mond (11) enjoy a good play during NFL football training camp Friday, July 30, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen celebrates his catch during NFL football training camp Friday, July 30, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer speaks to reporters during the NFL football team's training camp Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen (19) carries the ball during the team's Back Together Day at NFL football training camp at TCO Stadium, Saturday, July 31, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) throws during a NFL training camp Friday, July 30, 2021, in Eagan, Minn. (AP Photo/Bruce Kluckhohn)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The absence of Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins from practice this week due to COVID-19 protocols and coach Mike Zimmer's deep frustration with his unvaccinated players has created unexpected tension early in training camp.

The Vikings have continued to express confidence in their team chemistry to tamp down any potential internal rifts over the polarizing issue, but they could be in for a lot of work on that front this season.

According to a person with knowledge of the NFL data, the Vikings were carrying the league's lowest vaccination rate Tuesday with 70% of their roster having received at least one dose and 64.5% fully vaccinated. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the NFL is not publicizing team-by-team rates.

The league announced on Tuesday that it hit the 90% mark of players who have at least one shot, with nine teams above 95% and 27 teams above 85% percent.

Those rates leave the Vikings well behind.

''We're very concerned,'' owner and president Mark Wilf said Tuesday. ''I think it's safe to say that our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of our players, our coaches, our staff and, ultimately, the entire community.''

The NFL's chief medical officer, Dr. Allen Sills, made the rounds this summer and visited Vikings headquarters during minicamp in June to provide information and address concerns on the vaccine.

Cousins even complimented the team earlier this summer for being ''on top of it,'' as far as the overall effort to educate about the vaccine and protect from the virus spread.

''Just really making sure that everyone has the full facts, that there's not any misinformation about this and to understand all the ramifications of these decisions,'' Wilf said.

From ownership on down, the organization has been pushing hard not only to improve the team's lagging vaccination rate but communicate as a public service to the general population the benefit, safety and urgency of getting the shots.

The team typically avoids controversy on social media, but the Vikings sent a video clip of one of Zimmer's zingers - ''We could put this thing to bed if we'd all do this, but it is what it is'' - to the 1.3 million followers on their Twitter account.

Cousins, who was dismissive on COVID-19 infections on a podcast last year and later apologized, missed his fourth straight day of team activity under NFL protocols as a high-risk close contact of an infected person. Rookie QB Kellen Mond tested positive.

Unvaccinated players must sit out for five days under the 2020 close contact protocols. Vaccinated players don't have to.

''I think we're all very respectful of one another's decisions. There's never been any kind of division or conflicts,'' linebacker Anthony Barr said. ''It's your choice to make and you live with the results.''

Losing the starting quarterback for even one game during regular season can be a significant setback, one of several reasons Zimmer has been so irritated by the situation.

Cousins, Mond and Nate Stanley remain on the COVID-19 reserve list. Jake Browning, who has been vaccinated, is the only quarterback from the original training camp roster who has continued to practice this week.

Cousins is in the spotlight because of his stature, but he's obviously not alone. Wide receiver Adam Thielen and safety Harrison Smith are two other stars who had not been vaccinated when asked by reporters about their status last month. They cited personal choice but did not elaborate.

Barr said he believes the players respect Zimmer for expressing his frustration.

''He's worried about the team, making sure everybody is available at all times,'' the eighth-year pro said. ''I think that's what he's preaching. His first thought and concern is with the team.''

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Kyle Pitts Aug 3 7:10pm ET

Atlanta Falcons tight end Kyle Pitts had an impressive day Tuesday during the team's first padded practice. Pitts made an incredible leaping catch for a score at practice, showing off both his ability to make contested catches as well as his concentration. Contested catches are nothing new for the 20-year-old, as he led all 2021 rookies with 24 such receptions over his last two college seasons. Having lined up on the line, out wide, and in the slot so far in camp, Pitts seems headed for a healthy share of targets in 2021, considering the lack of proven options behind Calvin Ridley. He won't come cheap at a 49 ADP, but the talent and opportunity in front of him could make him one of the more productive tight ends in fantasy football.

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Calvin Ridley Aug 3 6:40pm ET

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley told reporters that his foot is "totally, definitely fixed" at training camp Tuesday. Ridley played through the injury last season, asserting his status as one of the league's best wideouts with a 90-catch, 1,374-yard, nine-touchdown season. The Falcons are understandably working him into camp slowly, as he is now the unquestioned number-one target in the offense with Julio Jones in Tennessee. Now fully healthy, Ridley could command a target share as high as any pass-catcher in the NFL this season, making him an excellent choice as a WR1 for fantasy teams at his current 23 ADP, particularly in PPR formats.

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Matt Ioannidis Aug 3 4:53pm ET

Washington Football Team DT Matt Ioannidis and CB Chris Miller were activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday, Aug. 3.

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Robert Tonyan Aug 3 4:50pm ET

Green Bay Packers tight end Robert Tonyan's connection with quarterback Aaron Rodgers in practice on Tuesday was described as "unstoppable" by those in attendance. Tonyan enjoyed a breakout campaign last season, catching 52 passes for 586 yards while tying for league lead among tight ends in touchdowns with 11. It may only be a week into camp but Tonyan's connection with Rodgers appears to be in midseason form. Tonyan may be hard-pressed to repeat his touchdown totals from last season but should be a high-end fantasy choice among tight ends based on the targets he should see in the offense.

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Randall Cobb Aug 3 4:40pm ET

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T.J. Watt Aug 3 3:40pm ET

The Pittsburgh Steelers would reportedly like to sign linebacker T.J. Watt to a contract extension before the start of the regular season. Watt, who has 29.5 sacks over the past two seasons, has one year remaining on his rookie deal. Team president Art Rooney II told reporters on Tuesday that he thinks the team will be able to get a deal done with Watt before the regular-season opener. Rooney stated, "Yeah, we'd like to get T.J.'s deal done before the start of the season. That's the goal. I don't like to get into those details in terms of the discussions, but we're going to try to get it done by the start of the season." Watt will play for $10.089 million in 2021 with the possibility to enter free agency following the season, although it appears unlikely that the Steelers will allow their star pass rusher to leave.

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Mason Rudolph Aug 3 3:30pm ET

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin revealed on Tuesday that Mason Rudolph will be the team's starting quarterback in the Hall of Fame Game against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday. It sounds as though Dwayne Haskins will finish the first half with Joshua Dobbs finishing the game. Not surprisingly, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not take the field in the team's first preseason game. Rudolph is still the team's No. 2 quarterback while Haskins and Dobbs are in a position battle for the No. 3 job. That being said, Haskins has reportedly been impressing during camp and could overtake Rudolph if he can play well in Pittsburgh's preseason contests.

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Curtis Samuel Aug 3 3:00pm ET

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Ryan Fitzpatrick Aug 3 3:00pm ET

Washington Football Team head coach Ron Rivera wanted friendly competition for the starting quarterback spot during training camp, as veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke battled for the starting nod. It seemed it was Fitzpatrick's job to lose, and that continues to be the case as we head into the second week of camp. During the full pad session on Tuesday, Fitzpatrick connected multiple times with tight end Logan Thomas in the end zone and got running back J.D. McKissic involved in the passing game as well. Fitzpatrick is surrounded by a formidable group of skill position players and has been put in a position to succeed under Scott Turner's offensive system. He is a QB2 in fantasy with weekly streaming appeal.

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Lamar Miller Aug 3 3:00pm ET

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Temarrick Hemingway Aug 3 3:00pm ET

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Tarik Cohen Aug 3 2:43pm ET

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