MINNEAPOLIS - Mike Zimmer met with reporters Monday morning to wrap up the 2019 season after the Minnesota Vikings lost 27-10 at San Francisco on Saturday in the NFC Divisional Playoffs.
Zimmer led the Vikings to their third playoff appearance in his six years with Minnesota. He’s been to the NFC title game, been to the divisional playoffs and the Wild Card game. They’ve won two NFC North Division titles under Zimmer, but have yet to reach a Super Bowl.
Zimmer and the organization have decisions to make at both coordinator spots, on Kirk Cousins, several other veteran players and on Zimmer himself. Here are the key takeaways from Monday’s news conference:
“I love these players, this organization”
The whispers started after the Dallas Cowboys parted ways with head coach Jason Garrett. The Cowboys could spin the wheels on bringing Mike Zimmer to Dallas. Two days before the Vikings were headed to New Orleans to face the Saints in the NFC Wild Card Playoffs, Vikings ownership released a statement giving Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman their full support. They have “every intent” of keeping both through next season and beyond.
The Vikings went onto beat the Saints before losing at San Francisco last weekend. Zimmer has two playoff wins with the Vikings, and it’s a safe bet he’s not going anywhere despite the team falling short of its lofty goals. Both Zimmer and Spielman are under contract through next season, and extensions could be coming sooner rather than later.
“I love these players, this organization. The owners have been outstanding to me. I believe that there will be conversations here in the near future and whatever happens, I’m happy with it,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer has 2 coordinators to replace
Coaching changes are inevitable when seasons end, and Mike Zimmer will have new offensive and defensive coordinators next year.
Kevin Stefanski interviewed for the Cleveland Browns head coaching job last Thursday, and reports emerged Sunday he was getting it. Stefanski’s departure means the Vikings will have their fifth new offensive coordinator in five seasons. One of the early favorites to replace him is currently quarterbacks coach Klint Kubiak, the son of assistant head coach Gary Kubiak. Zimmer didn’t rule out going outside the organization.
“I want to make sure the fit is right. Those guys over there, they do an outstanding job. I love the way that they work together and communicate, so if we do bring somebody in from the outside, I want to make sure that it’s the correct fit,” Zimmer said.
On the defensive side, George Edwards will not return after his contract was not renewed. The Vikings’ defense was inconsistent in stopping the run this season, giving up 186 yards and two touchdowns to the 49ers, and the secondary struggled at times. An early favorite to replace Edwards is linebackers coach Adam Zimmer, Mike’s son.
What to do with Kirk Cousins?
Kirk Cousins just finished the second season of a three-year, $84 million fully-guaranteed contract with the Vikings. Cousins is guaranteed $29.5 million next season, but the Vikings have a decision to make past next season.
Cousins threw for more than 3,600 yards, 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He completed 69 percent of his passes. But after losses to the Seahawks and Packers, he dropped to 0-9 for his career on Monday Night Football. He also struggles against above .500 teams.
Cousins led the Vikings on a game-winning touchdown drive in the playoffs at New Orleans in overtime, then was flustered by the pressure the 49ers applied. If Cousins is their quarterback moving forward, and some fans are passionate in their disagreement there, they’ll be looking to give him an extension before the 2020 season.
“I think Kirk played a lot better this year than he did the year before. I think it may have been his best year that he’s played in the NFL,” Zimmer said.
Tough decisions on veteran free agents
Mike Zimmer admitted Monday this offseason will include several different conversations with veteran players. The Vikings have 15 unrestricted free agents this offseason, and won’t be able to keep them all. The list includes a wealth of defensive players, including Trae Waynes, Anthony Harris, Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Stephen Weatherly and Andrew Sendejo. They also have decisions to make on veterans Xavier Rhodes, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen.
Griffen said Monday, “I want to be a Viking for life.” Zimmer’s defense, traditionally in the top-10 in his six years, finished 14th in the NFL in total defense this year. Their rushing defense was 13th, allowing 108 yards per game.
“It’s definitely hard because I really respect these players. The ones that have been with me for six years now, they’ve busted their rear ends and they’ve done everything I’ve asked them to do,” Zimmer said.
Offensive approach won’t change
He’ll have a new offensive coordinator, but Mike Zimmer doesn’t want his offensive approach to change. They’re going to run the ball to open up the offense, and that could make Klint Kubiak an early favorite for a promotion to replace Stefanski. Dalvin Cook led the NFL in rushing before dealing with chest and shoulder injuries that forced him to miss two games and leave to others early.
With Gary Kubiak, Stefanski and the new zone scheme implemented, the Vikings improved from 30th in the NFL in rushing last season to sixth. Cook had five 100-yard rushing games, and became instrumental in short passing. The Vikings want continuity and consistency on offense, so they’re going to change as little as possible.
“I feel like if we continue to work on the execution of staying with the same play calls, the same system, the same motions and formations and things like that, it will definitely help the offensive players,” Zimmer said.