The Minnesota Vikings have picked up Mike Zimmer’s option for 2020, but it’s essentially a procedural move to eliminate a constant line of questioning.
The NFL is convening in Indianapolis for the draft combine this week, with coaches and general managers starting to hold court with the media. On Wednesday, Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman told reporters head coach Mike Zimmer has had his contract option for 2020 picked up.
Zimmer was heading into the final year of his contract. Spielman is as well even if he wouldn’t comment on his own situation. But instead of taking the course the Dallas Cowboys are on with Jason Garrett, the Vikings have avoided making Zimmer a lame-duck head coach next season.
Zimmer has won two division titles in five seasons as Vikings head coach, but his tenure has not been without ups and downs.
After a run to the NFC title game in 2017, with Case Keenum as the starting quarterback, expectations were increased as a practical matter when Kirk Cousins was given a fully guaranteed three-year, $84 million contract.
But those expectations faded into a 8-7-1 record and no playoff berth in 2018. If the trend keeps up from 2015 (11-5) to 2016 (8-8), to 2017 (13-3) to last season, 2019 is in line to be a rebound campaign with lower expectations from the outside Zimmer can offer as motivation for his team.
Cousins put up nice numbers last season, but as has been typical in his career they were hollow and he fell short in big games. An offensive coordinator change came late in the season, and Kevin Stefanski has been elevated to the permanent post after taking over for John DeFilippo.
After some buzz he would return to the Denver Broncos’ sideline as offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak has been brought to Minnesota as an assistant head coach/offensive consultant.
Anything that can be done to get the most out of Cousins is a good thing, in particular as a play-action passer, and Kubiak has had success in that realm in the past. But Zimmer had to nail the offensive coordinator hire after DeFilippo’s failure and it’s unclear if he’s done that with Stefanski.
Kubiak was 21-11 with a Super Bowl win in two seasons as Broncos’ head coach (2015-16), before health concerns led to him leaving the job. After returning to Denver in a front office capacity, he’s back in coaching.
He may have no desire to be a head coach again, but Kubiak is now lingering over Zimmer’s shoulder to some degree.
Having his option for 2020 picked up means one thing for Zimmer. He has been promised a salary from the Vikings for that season. whether he’s the head coach or not.
But another season of failed expectations in 2019, even if it can be primarily traced to the quarterback’s shortcomings, could bring Zimmer’s firing and the general manager will probably follow him out the door.