INDIANAPOLIS – The Vikings have exercised an option in Mike Zimmer’s deal that keeps the coach under contract through the 2020 season, General Manager Rick Spielman said at the NFL combine on Wednesday morning.
Zimmer’s contract had been set to expire after the 2019 season. Asked in January if he would be comfortable coaching into the final year of his deal, The 62-year-old coach said, “Sure, I got no problem with that. Free agent after that, right?”
Instead, the Vikings’ move grants the coach some measure of security as he enters his sixth season, with his fourth offensive coordinator (Kevin Stefanski) and a revamped offensive staff designed to provide the Vikings with the continuity they’ve lacked on offense in the past.
“Don’t think, from our ownership through our entire organization, that we don’t believe in Coach Zimmer, and that he is the right head coach for us going forward,” Spielman said.
Spielman would not address his contract status, saying, “I’m never going to talk about my situation.”
Multiple sources have told the Star Tribune that Spielman’s deal, like Zimmer’s, was set to expire after next season.
Zimmer is 47-32-1 in the regular season, with a 1-2 record in the playoffs. He led the Vikings to a division title in 2015 and a trip to the NFC Championship Game in 2017. After the team entered 2018 with lofty expectations following the addition of quarterback Kirk Cousins, the Vikings went 8-7-1.
Zimmer fired first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo in December and the team missed the playoffs with a Week 17 home loss to the Bears.
The Vikings made a similar move with Leslie Frazier, Zimmer’s predecessor, after he took the Vikings to the playoffs in 2012. The team picked up a previously undisclosed option in Frazier’s contract for the 2014 season, ensuring he wouldn’t have a lame-duck season in 2013. After the Vikings fell from 10-6 in 2012 to 5-10-1 in 2013, the team fired Frazier with the option year still left on his contract.
When the Vikings hired Zimmer to replace Frazier, they bet on his ability to rebuild a defense that had allowed the most points in the league the previous year. After four straight years of top-10 scoring defenses, Zimmer’s status beyond next season could hinge on the Vikings’ offensive performance.
Spielman sounded hopeful on Wednesday that the addition of former Texans and Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak — as well as his son Klint and longtime assistants Rick Dennison and Brian Pariani — should help the Vikings build an offense that’s more compatible with Cousins’ skill set than the one they had in 2018.
Cousins threw for 4,298 yards — the second-highest single-season total in Vikings history — and became the fifth Vikings QB to throw for 30 or more touchdowns in a season, but the team went 1-6 against playoff teams and missed the playoffs as its offensive performance lagged and the philosophical chasm between Zimmer and DeFilippo deepened in the second half of the season.
“I think he did a very good job from a statistical standpoint; we just didn’t win enough games. And that’s not all on Kirk Cousins, either,” Spielman said. “There’s a lot of other reasons that we didn’t win games. With my history with [unrestricted free agents], they usually start clicking pretty good going into the second year. And if you put them in a system that they’re pretty familiar with, it makes that transition that much easier.
“With Kubiak and the Shanahan tree coming in and Kirk coming up through that system ... that’s why we’re very excited about what we’ve been able to accomplish so far as far as bringing in the coaches. I’m excited about where this team is going to get ready to go.”