Mike Zimmer (Coach)

NFC North Notes: Vikings, Nelson, Trubisky

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer was hired to his post mostly because of his mastery in calling an NFL defense. Zimmer was the Bengals defensive coordinator for six seasons before making the jump to the head coaching ranks in 2014. Although, he’s still been calling Minnesota’s defensive plays for the past four years. However, that is something that may change come 2018, reports Andrew Krammer of the Star Tribune.

Krammer passes along that Zimmer almost gave up his playing calling duties this past year to defensive coordinator George Edwards. He ultimately decided against the move largely because of his success at calling defensive schemes for the past 18 years. Zimmer did express that Edwards is the main orchestrator of the team’s defensive game plan for the most part anyway.

“George does everything,” Zimmer said. “He helps with the game plan. He runs a lot of the meetings, the defensive meetings. Him and I really sit down and talk about all the different things that are going on. He studies the game just like he’s calling the game. So he’ll come in and talk to me about second down-and-whatever. ‘They’re doing this,’ or, ‘they’re doing that.’ Really, he does everything other than call the game on Sunday.”

Edwards used to call plays for the Bills back in 2011, but has taken a backseat in that regard in order to work as a member of Zimmer’s staff. This dynamic could be a subplot as we approach next year’s training camp because Zimmer appears to be letting go of the idea that he has to be the one making the final defensive decisions on Sundays.

“It’s a lot of work when you sit down and do it,” Zimmer said of calling plays. “I’ve done it for a long time. And because I have confidence in George, as well. I think maybe just the fact that, um, you know, I don’t know – I guess I’m just getting older.”

Here’s more stories from around the NFC North:

  • In other Vikings news, wide receiver Jarius Wright is reported to have restructured his deal at the beginning of the season, which dropped his base salary from $2.5MM to $1.05MM, according to Ben Goessling of the Star Tribune (Twitter link). Goessling notes that Wright has earned weekly roster bonuses of about $93k in order to get back his original salary figure. With that in mind, he’ll have earned back the rest of his money by the time Week 17 kicks off.
  • Packers longtime receiver Jordy Nelson appears to be stuck in limbo with the organization the drafted him back in 2008, opines Rob Demosvky of ESPN.com. Nelson, who’ll turn 33 over the summer has seen a major drop off in production in his 10th year in the NFL. Demovsky suggests that the veteran wideout may hinder the team’s ability to re-sign the more productive and younger Davante Adams, who’ll be a free agent this offseason. Nelson will collect about $10MM in salary and bonuses in 2018, which will make him more difficult to cut or trade in the next few months. Randall Cobb is signed long-term as well, but is five years Nelson’s junior, which makes him a better piece to have moving forward. Not being able to sign Adams would be a major blow for a Packers team that saw what life is like without Aaron Rodgers this year. This puts the Packers in a very difficult position entering a crucial offseason with the team having missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
  • Mitch Trubisky has had his moments during his rookie campaign, but has largely faced a lot of difficulty in his first season in the NFL. It’s expected that the Bears coaching staff and roster will have a lot of turnover this offseason, but the young signal caller expects to take a “big jump” in 2018, reports Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune“I’m always motivated to get better,” Trubisky said. “I expect to make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. The experience I got this year, I’m definitely going to carry that with me into the offseason and expect to have a lot of momentum and just a full head of steam going into next year.” While he experienced a number of challenges in 2017, Trubisky emphasized “growth and development” in his reflection of his first foray into professional football. Expect the Bears to put an emphasis on surrounding Trubisky with more talent this offseason. He’s had to work with patchwork receiving groups all year long, which certainly does not bode well for his outlook moving forward. The former first round pick comes into Week 17 completing under 60% of his passes, while throwing just as many touchdowns as interceptions at seven apiece.


North Notes: Tuitt, Trubisky, Vikings

Following the extensions for Antonio Brown and Alejandro Villanueva, the Steelers locked down Stephon Tuitt on the eve of their 2017 opener. Tuitt agreed to a five-year, $61MM extension on Saturday, and the details of that deal are out. Tuitt will receive an $11MM signing bonus and stand to earn $24MM in new money in the deal’s first two years, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reports, adding the fourth-year defensive end will collect $14MM in 2017 as opposed to the $1.05MM he was set to make. Florio adds there is no guarantee after the first year of the contract, which is typical for Steelers deals.

A $7.5MM roster bonus will be owed to Tuitt on the fifth day of the 2018 league year, Florio adds, and a $3.5MM roster bonus will be due on Day 5 of the 2019 league year. In 2018, Tuitt will earn a $3.5MM base salary and stands to collect a $6MM base in 2019. Tuitt’s ensuing base salaries are as follows: $9MM (2020), $9MM (’21) and $9.05MM (’22).

In Tuitt and Cameron Heyward, the Steelers have two interior defensive linemen earning at least $10MM annually. They join only the Jaguars and Bills in that group.

Here’s the latest from the North divisions on Week 1 Sunday eve.

  • Mike Zimmer considered giving up Vikings defensive play-calling duties in advance of this season, Andrew Krammer of the Minneapolis Star Tribune notes. However, the fourth-year coach resumed that responsibility during the preseason. The Vikings ranked ninth in defensive DVOA last season and made a point to extend key starters Linval Joseph, Everson Griffen and Xavier Rhodes this offseason.
  • Mitch Trubisky‘s ability to process an NFL offense surprised the Bears, J.J. Stankevitz of CSNChicago.com notes. This led to the No. 2 overall pick — a one-year starter at North Carolina — commandeering the Bears’ backup job and prompting John Fox to declare him “ready to play” if needed Sunday.
  • Rick Spielman is entering his 12th season making Vikings personnel decisions, but he’s only overseen one playoff victory — a Brett Favre-led divisional-round win over the Cowboys. The Vikings are again expected to compete for a playoff spot but Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune writes ownership will have to weigh the GM’s status if another season ends short of a playoff triumph. Illustrating Spielman’s effectiveness while showing obvious difficulty in establishing consistency, Minnesota has made the playoffs with four different quarterbacks — Tarvaris Jackson, Favre, Christian Ponder and Teddy Bridgewater — in the decision-maker’s tenure. The Vikings likely have to do so with a fifth, Sam Bradford, if they’re to return this season.
  • The Bears’ Akiem Hicks extension followed Tuitt’s by a few hours Saturday, and he will be just shy of the Steelers defensive end on the AAV spectrum.
  • The Browns once again have a new starting quarterback, but they’ll again trot out a new No. 2 man. Kevin Hogan will be the next man up behind DeShone Kizer on Sunday.

NFC Notes: Rams, Cowboys, Eagles, Vikes

The Rams had been holding off on extension talks with franchise-tagged cornerback Trumaine Johnson because they wanted to see how he fit in new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme during their offseason program. Well, Johnson and Phillips are apparently a match, as head coach Sean McVay said Thursday (via Alden Gonzalez of ESPN.com) that he “fits any system. You’re talking about a big corner who can run, he’s physical, he can tackle and he has great ball skills.” The Rams have until July 15 to reach a long-term deal with Johnson, who’s currently scheduled to rake in $16.742MM this year. The same deadline doesn’t apply to superstar defensive tackle Aaron Donald, as he’s still under control for two more years. The sides have discussed an extension, though, and McVay is “optimistic that something’s going to work out.”

More from the NFC:

  • One reason the Cowboys are uninterested in free agent cornerback Darrelle Revis is because they view him as a “progress-stopper,” according to Charean Williams of Pro Football Talk. The Cowboys used three picks this year on corners, including Chidobe Awuzie in Round 2 and Jourdan Lewis in Round 3, and seem content to lean on a group that includes those youngsters, second-year man Anthony Brown (whom they’re bullish on, per Williams) and the established twosome of Orlando Scandrick and Nolan Carroll.
  • After playing just 27 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in 2016, linebacker Mychal Kendricks has been the subject of trade rumors throughout the offseason. For now, Kendricks is still in Philadelphia, and if he remains an Eagle this year, his role is unlikely to change, writes Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com. The Eagles used their nickel package over 70 percent of the time last season, and they’ll probably rely on it heavily again; if so, Kendricks will continue to watch from the sideline as fellow linebackers Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham receive the majority of snaps. The 26-year-old Kendricks still has three years left on his contract, but releasing him would cost the Eagles $9.15MM in dead cap this summer. Barring a trade, then, he figures to spend the sixth year of his career with his only NFL employer to date.
  • Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is finally poised to put his nagging right eye issues behind him. “We’re just about out of the woods,” said Zimmer, who has undergone eight separate surgeries over the past year to repair a detached retina. A checkup on Wednesday revealed that “the retina is perfect, the pressure [in my eye] is great,” Zimmer informed reporters, including Ben Goessling of ESPN.com. The 61-year-old’s doctor told him he’d be “absolutely shocked if anything else happened in this eye.” Zimmer’s eye problems led to his absence from the Vikings’ Week 13 loss to Dallas last season and forced him to miss the first two weeks of organized team activities this spring.

Mike Zimmer Returns To Vikings

The Vikings announced this morning that head coach Mike Zimmer has returned to practice. The now-61-year-old (his birthday is today) has been absent from the first two weeks of OTAs as he recovered from eye surgery.

Mike Zimmer (vertical)The eye woes aren’t anything new for Zimmer, as Josh Alper of ProFootballTalk.com notes that the coach has undergone eight separate surgeries over the past year to repair a detached retina. Considering the apparent on-going issues, some wondered if Zimmer would consider retirement, but the head coach quickly dismissed that theory.

One eye or two, it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to be back,” Zimmer said in May. “So we can put the retiring thing or whatever to bed quickly.”

Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, defensive coordinator George Edwards and special teams coach Mike Priefer were required to lead their respective units during OTAs. Alper notes that defensive line coach Andre Patterson “covered some of Zimmer’s duties” during the head honcho’s absence.

In three seasons with the team, Zimmer has led the Vikings to a 26-22 record and one playoff appearance. Prior to his time in Minnesota, he served as the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, Falcons, and Cowboys.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

NFC Rumors: DGB, E. Thomas, H. Smith

Dorial Green-Beckham, whom the Eagles acquired in a mid-August trade last year, believes Philadelphia has not seen him at his best. After all, he had to learn a new offense on the fly after the trade, and then he had to adjust to a new starting quarterback a few weeks later. But as Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes, DGB has an uphill battle just to make the team, let alone make a major impact. The Eagles signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency, they spent mid-round draft choices on Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson, and Jordan Matthews looks to remain with the club after being the subject of offseason trade rumors. All five of those players are roster locks, which means that Green-Beckham will battle former first-round selection Nelson Agholor — whom the Eagles have more of a commitment to from a salary and draft standpoint — for the final wide receiver spot. So, barring injury or a transcendent training camp, DGB’s days in Philadelphia could be numbered.

Now for more from the NFC:

  • Steve Wyche of NFL.com reports that Seahawks safety Earl Thomas is ahead of schedule in his recovery from a broken left left leg, and head coach Pete Carroll has no doubts that Thomas will be at full speed in training camp. WR Tyler Lockett, who is also recovering from a broken leg, is not as far along as Thomas, but Carroll indicated that Locket is still “on schedule.”
  • The Giants signed D.J. Fluker this offseason to help bolster an offensive line that was a major weakness last season. Fluker, whom the Chargers drafted as a tackle, shifted inside to guard over the past couple of seasons, but it was expected that he could at least compete for the Giants’ right tackle job this summer. But the Associated Press reports that Bobby Hart has manned right tackle during OTAs, which has relegated Fluker to John Jerry‘s backup at right guard.
  • The Lions recently signed former division-rival Matt Asiata to complement their running back corps, but barring an injury, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press does not see Asiata making the team. Birkett expects Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington to be the Lions’ running backs, in that order, and he does not believe there is room for a fifth RB, even without a fullback.
  • Vikings star safety Harrison Smith says his ankle is fully healed and is now a non-issue, per the Associated Press.
  • Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune reports that Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer is expected to return to Minnesota today, to visit his eye doctors tomorrow, and if all goes well, he will be coaching OTAs on Tuesday (Twitter links).

NFC Notes: Vikings, Peterson, 49ers

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is taking some time off as he recovers from eye surgery, but the 60-year-old vowed that he’d be back before long.

“I’ll be back shortly. One eye or two, it really doesn’t matter. I’m going to be back,” Zimmer said (via Matt Vensel of the Star Tribune). “So we can put the retiring thing or whatever to bed quickly.”

The coach revealed that there haven’t been any setbacks since he underwent surgery earlier this month, and he indicated that a recent examination revealed that everything was progressing positvely. Zimmer is ultimately hoping to be back on the sideline in early June for organized team activities.

“I miss being in the meetings with players and I especially miss being out on the field, where I can give immediate feedback on technique and things like that,” he said.

Let’s check out some more notes from around the NFC…

  • During the NFL Draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called tight end Vance McDonald to update him on potential trade talks. The 26-year-old offensive weapon appreciated his coach’s willingness to be completely transparent about the rumors. “Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald told Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team…So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.” McDonald finished last season with career-highs in receiving yards (391) and touchdowns (four).
  • Running back Adrian Peterson is still trying to figure out his fit with the Saints, but his teammates are confident that his presence will result in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. “I think he’s looking forward to that,” said fullback John Kuhn (via Brett Martel of the Associated Press). “Not to put words in his mouth, but everybody in here, especially on the offensive side, realizes that the more weapons that we have, the more explosive we can be.”
  • Cardinals wideout Jaron Brown was expected to play a significant role during the 2016 season, but a torn ACL ended his campaign prematurely. Despite the injury, the organization still decided to sign the former undrafted free agent to an extension. Now, Brown is hoping to repay the Cardinals for their good will gesture. “That meant a lot,” Brown told Kent Somers of AZCentral.com. “You don’t see that too many times, and it kind of shows that faith and loyalty in me to get back to where I was. It was good for both sides.”

NFC Notes: Kaepernick, Lions, Megatron

A group will gather outside of the NFL’s headquarters on Wednesday to show support for former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, as ESPN.com’s Michael Rothstein writes.

He stood up for us. It’s only right that he took our issues in our communities and brought it to a national level and sacrificed salary and being ostracized by the NFL,” nonprofit chair Kevin Livingston said. “It was only right that we stand up for him. I started this, literally, when he came to my office — I was moved. I work with parolees. People usually want to ostracize this particular population. Me working with him on the front lines and him coming to my office, this is not the first time I’ve worked with him. “So I thought it was only right that I stand up for him.”

In addition to the demonstration in Manhattan, there will also be pro-Kaepernick gatherings in Brooklyn, Harlem, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Orlando, Florida, Chicago, Houston, Washington, D.C., Miami, Detroit, and other locations. The Seahawks are known to have some interest in Kaepernick, but the QB still remains without work.

Here’s more from the NFC:

NFC Rumors: Megatron, Vikings, Redskins

Calvin Johnson said again Saturday he is not coming back to football, and the potential Hall of Fame wide receiver didn’t like the way his relationship with the Lions concluded when he retired in March 2016.

I just didn’t feel like I was treated the way I should have been treated on the way out. That’s all,” Johnson said, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “I mean, it’s all good. I’m not tripping. I don’t feel any kind of way, just hey, that’s what they did. Hey, it is what is.”

Johnson declined to go into specifics regarding this. Birkett points out the Lions attempted to recoup some of Megatron’s signing bonus, reporting Johnson paid $320K — one-tenth of the $3.2MM the Lions could have collected under the CBA — when he retired. The parties agreed to a reduced payment last year, Birkett notes. This retirement unfolded smoother than Barry Sanders‘ did in 1999. The Lions filed a grievance against the Hall of Fame running back, and he paid the team back in installments.

Johnson also alluded to a conversation he had with the team regarding the reason he was retiring. Last year, the receiver did say it would have been harder to follow through with the early-retirement plan if the Lions were in a better position to compete. But he maintained this NFL exit centered around his health.

They told me they wouldn’t trade me if I came back and stuff like that, but it wasn’t about that,” Johnson said, via Birkett. “It was about how I felt.”

Here’s the latest from the NFC.

  • Mike Zimmer underwent an eighth right eye operation this week, Matt Vensel of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. All of these procedures have occurred since November of last year. The fourth-year Vikings coach said he’s unsure if this will be the last one. Zimmer missed Week 13 of last season due to eye troubles and acknowledges he will experience vision problems in his left eye at some point.
  • Zimmer said the franchise carefully took Michael Floyd‘s off-the-field history into account before signing him. “We always try to weigh every situation, but you know he’s from here. I think he has a good support system with Harrison Smith and Kyle Rudolph partly,’’ Zimmer said (via Chris Tomasson of the St. Paul Pioneer Press) of two former Floyd Notre Dame teammates. “So a lot of those things were factored in and entered into it.” A Floyd arrest for a super extreme DUI led to the Cardinals releasing him last season.
  • The Redskins don’t plan to move one of their outside linebackers to defensive end before training camp. The team drafted Ryan Anderson to join a stable of outside ‘backers that includes Ryan Kerrigan, Trent Murphy, Preston Smith and Junior Galette. But none will be tried at 3-4 end, John Keim of ESPN.com reports. Washington may have a crowd here, but it’s not full of reliable players. Murphy will serve a four-game suspension, and Galette hasn’t played since 2014. Free agents Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain preceded Jonathan Allen‘s arrival in what will be a new-look defensive end corps. Washington lost Chris Baker and cut Ricky Jean-Francois this offseason.

NFC Notes: Redskins, Panthers, Cowboys

Although free agency opens in less than a week, the Redskins still haven’t attempted to negotiate a new deal with Pierre Garcon, the soon-to-be available wide receiver said Thursday (via Peter Halley of CSN Mid-Atlantic). “I haven’t heard anything from the Redskins,” Garcon said on former Colts punter Pat McAfee’s podcast“I have not heard anything at all. But everybody does strategic moves right before free agency, or right during free agency, so I couldn’t tell you what they’re up to.” As arguably a top 25 free agent in the 2017 class, the 30-year-old Garcon could garner $9MM-plus per annum on his next contract.

More from the NFC:

  • It’s “fair” to say the Panthers will draft a running back this year, general manager Dave Gettleman told David Newton of ESPN.com. That’s not surprising given that starting running back Jonathan Stewart will play his age-30 season and face a contract year in 2017. Gettleman is bullish on this year’s selection of backs, which LSU’s Leonard Fournette, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey headline. “It’s a deep running back group, we know that,’’ he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how the whole process plays out because we’re really just halfway through it.’’
  • The Cowboys plan to shop running back Alfred Morris, but they’re going to have difficulty finding a taker because of his contract, opines Rich Tandler of CSN Mid-Atlantic. Although Morris is due an affordable base salary of $1.2MM in 2017, his deal also includes $500K in per-game roster bonuses.
  • On the heels of a season in which the Vikings’ offense placed 23rd in scoring, 26th in DVOA and 28th in yardage, defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer has taken a more hands-on approach with the unit, Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com details. Zimmer has twice watched every offensive play the Vikings ran in 2016 and sat in on meetings with coordinator Pat Shurmur and his staff over the past couple months. Observed Zimmer: “I’m watching tape [of last season]. And we run a complementary play off another play, but we don’t run that other play. So [the defense] is saying, any time they do this, they’re going to run that. So this is about trying to get the players in the right position to do more.”
  • After playing through foot problems last season, all-world Falcons receiver Julio Jones will undergo surgery Monday, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (via Marc Sessler of NFL.com). Fortunately for Jones and the Falcons, the procedure will be minor and won’t affect his training camp availability.

NFC Notes: 49ers, Eagles, Vikings

In their drawn-out quest to find a general manager, the 49ers are down to two finalists – Vikings assistant GM George Paton and Cardinals Terry McDonough – but “it’s not a lock” either will end up with the job, a source close to the team told Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com. While there’s a “good chance” one of them will land the role, per the source, the previously reported Mark Dominik “could become involved” if the Niners go in another direction, writes Maiocco.

More from a couple other NFC cities:

  • The Eagles are poised to clear “significant” cap space, which could end center Jason Kelce‘s six-year tenure in Philadelphia. When asked about Kelce on Wednesday, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman didn’t shoot down any rumors regarding the 29-year-old. “We’re talking about a guy who just made the Pro Bowl. Those are good situations for the Philadelphia Eagles to have Pro Bowl players,” Roseman told Zach Berman of Philly.com. “But it’s hard to go into each player, and I’m not saying as it relates to Kelce, but if I start answering the question to Jason Kelce, that opens the door to five or six other guys.” By cutting Kelce, the Eagles would open up $3.8MM in cap space for 2017.
  • Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer missed the team’s Week 13 loss to the Cowboys after undergoing emergency surgery on his right eye. Over a month later, Zimmer still can’t see out of that eye and will undergo another procedure in April, tweets Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News. “Hopefully that will fix it,” said Zimmer.
  • One of Zimmer’s players, wide receiver/kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson, is open to leaving the Vikings as a free agent if they don’t promise him an increased offensive role. “I need to know if I’m going to play or not. If not, I’ll take my talents elsewhere,” Patterson told Conor Orr of NFL.com. Patterson’s relevance in the Vikings’ offense increased significantly after coordinator Pat Shurmur took over for Norv Turner at the outset of November. Shurmur guaranteed Patterson more targets after grabbing the reins, and the 25-year-old then racked up 46 in the final nine games of the season. He had only 24 in Turner’s seven games atop the offense. All told, the first-team All-Pro return man amassed a career-high 52 catches, though he only averaged 8.7 yards per reception. On whether he’d return to Minnesota for a fifth season in 2017, Patterson said, “If they want me back, they’ll (make a deal) and get me back.”
  • The Eagles and player personnel executive Rick Mueller are parting ways, sources told Jeff McLane of Philly.com. Mueller was in his second stint with the Eagles, who fired him during the Chip Kelly era and brought him back when it ended.