Mike Zimmer couldn’t remember the date when NFL teams finally reassembled and went back to work following the lockout in 2011.
But he does remember one thing.
“There was plenty of time to get ready for the season,” said the Vikings coach, who was Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator at the time.
It was March 11 when the lockout began and July 25 when it ended. In between were 130 days in which the NFL did nothing but hold its draft.
No free agency. No trades. No offseason programs, real or virtual. No minicamps, rookie or full-squad.
The Bengals had gone 4-12 in 2010 and were at war with starting quarterback Carson Palmer. When Palmer didn’t report to camp, the Bengals wrote him off and made rookie second-round draft pick Andy Dalton their starter.
They were no doubt doomed, right?
Cincinnati went 9-7 and made the playoffs for only the third time in 22 years.
Keep that in mind as people try to guess which teams will be most or least affected by the coronavirus pandemic that shuttered NFL facilities in March and threatens to keep players and coaches stuck in a virtual reality until late July if not longer.
The hope is training camps open on time in late July.
If that’s the case, Zim says no biggie.
“I’m not really concerned about if they give us five weeks or three weeks or whatever it is [to get ready],” Zimmer said. “We’ll figure out how to best utilize those particular weeks.”
According to VegasInsider.com, four of the top five Super Bowl favorites are the Chiefs (6/1), Ravens (7/1), 49ers (10/1) and Saints (13/1). All four have coaching continuity, few if any holes and the same quality quarterbacks who led them to a combined 52-12 record and four division titles a year ago.
The Chiefs, of course, won the Super Bowl. The Ravens had the league’s best record. The 49ers won the NFC. And the Saints are so confident in their continuity that coach Sean Payton didn’t even bother setting up a virtual offseason.
The Buccaneers (13/1) are tied with New Orleans on that list. Right or wrong, they are the anomaly because of a man named Brady. We’ll see whether the G.O.A.T. can pull this off without a real offseason and a fast-approaching 43rd birthday.
Coming in eighth is Bill Belichick and the Patriots (22/1). Second-year quarterback Jason Stidham isn’t Brady, but neither was Matt Cassel when he played all but half a quarter for an injured Brady when Belichick went 11-5 in 2008.
The Vikings (25/1) rank 10th on this list.
Offensively, the Vikings meet the continuity criterion with Gary Kubiak assuming control as coordinator, Kirk Cousins having started 34 consecutive games and Stefon Diggs being the only key loss.
“It’s fortunate for us,” Zimmer said. “We have a lot of veterans offensively.”
Defensively, not so much.
Eight contributors to last year’s No. 5 scoring defense are gone. Five played defensive back, including the top three corners.
“It reminds me of when we were in college and had five defensive backs graduate,” Zimmer said. “You got guys that come in who are redshirt freshmen and you got to get them ready to play. So that part kind of energizes us as coaches.”
Can Zimmer elevate the defense without a real offseason?
Well, in 2011, Kubiak’s Texans were coming off a 6-10 season. They hired Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator after ranking 29th in points allowed.
They were no doubt doomed without an offseason, right?
Not exactly. They finished 10-6 and ranked fourth in points allowed. Of course, it did help that they drafted a guy named J.J. Watt that year.
People will look at 2011 and say continuity prevailed since it was the Giants and Patriots who reached the Super Bowl.
But half of the 12-team playoff field — three teams in each conference — made the playoffs after failing the year before.
The Broncos made it, going from 4-12 to 8-8 with a new coach (John Fox) and a quarterback controversy. Kyle Orton was 1-4 when he was replaced by Tim Tebow, who had three career starts at the time.
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Jim Harbaugh had never been an NFL head coach when he took over a 6-10 team. His quarterbacks — Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick — were so rusty in the preseason opener that Harbaugh worked out a UFL QB by the name of Daunte Culpepper.
They were no doubt doomed, right?
Not really. Smith and Harbaugh led the 49ers to a 9-1 start, 13 wins and a trip to the NFC Championship Game.
Keep all this in mind the next time you witness someone trying to predict which teams will be most or least affected by an unusual offseason such as this.