A long-term outlook was one of Mike Zimmer’s priorities once his agent started the process of his three-year contract extension. Zimmer wanted to be signed through at least the 2023 season, after which he’ll turn 68, to increase the chances of ending his career with the Vikings. He added Saturday he has not yet determined how long he’ll coach.
“That was very important to me, partly because of my age,” Zimmer said via video conference Saturday, a day after finalizing his new contract. “If I go two more years, I’ll be 66 or something. My chance of being a head coach somewhere else would be not as good. So, I wanted to be here with the Vikings. I wanted to be here with the group we’ve put together.”
Tying the knot took some long talks, according to Zimmer, who acknowledged the process dragged out longer than he expected. Andrew Miller, the team’s new chief operating officer, handled negotiations, which did not pick up steam until after the NFL draft in late April, when the pandemic started shrouding the season.
“I’m not the most patient guy. It took a while to get started,” Zimmer said. “Time gets closer and closer, you get antsy and want to get something done. They did, too. They wanted to get something done. We had some hard negotiations there, and some of the parts of the contract took a little longer than we anticipated. There wasn’t any time where I didn’t feel like it was going to get done.”
This Vikings team, in Zimmer’s seventh year in Minnesota, might also require a long-term outlook.
Zimmer turned Saturday to mapping out the team’s camp schedule, which could not be finalized until Friday’s agreement between the NFL and NFLPA on key issues, including camp structure. Meetings remain virtual until players register two negative coronavirus tests, taken three days apart. Even in-person sessions will be limited in capacity to, for instance, an offensive group meeting of about 40. Teamwide meetings will remain virtual.
Zimmer is focused on quickly developing a young roster with 15 draft picks. Every NFL team is limited to 14 padded practices until the regular season. Without preseason games, the Vikings will push the intensity of those practices, according to Zimmer, including creating more game-like situations. The first padded practice can be held Aug. 17.
“Number one, we’re going to have live contact,” Zimmer said. “Our younger guys against our better guys and try to evaluate those players in those situations.”
Zimmer said he’s also focused on finding ways for players to bond, since many will be meeting each other in person for the first time this week.
“Trying to get some team chemistry, I think, is going to be important as well,” he said. “So, we’re very fortunate to have so much space in [TCO Performance Center] that we can have some meetings that aren’t virtual.”
Running back Dalvin Cook is expected to report to camp Tuesday, according to Zimmer, after threatening to continue his holdout amid contract negotiations. Zimmer said Saturday he’d heard directly from Cook about the running back’s intentions, which led Cook’s agent, Zac Hiller, to deny hours later in a statement that Cook had spoken to Zimmer about camp. While Cook didn’t share his intentions with Zimmer, he did with his position coach, according to NFL Media, and is expected to report after all.
More roster uncertainty awaits Zimmer, who acknowledged the challenge of losing three starting cornerbacks this offseason. Mike Hughes, who has appeared in 20 games with five starts, is the Vikings’ most experienced player at that position.
This Vikings season will be unlike any other for Zimmer, but he has dealt with plenty of adversity in the past.
“My first year, I had my running back [Adrian Peterson] suspended in the second game. Nobody knew that was going to happen,” Zimmer said. “Teddy [Bridgewater] blows his knee out. [Sam] Bradford, you know. Everson [Griffen] misses a game. There’s so many things that happen that kind of callous you.
“My eye, missing the game, the eight surgeries,” Zimmer continued. “When [players] get a guy hurt, they understand that’s part of the game, and they’ll understand if a guy misses two weeks because he tests positive for COVID.”