Mike Zimmer (Coach)

Coaching Notes: Vikings, Fins, Bills, Broncos

When Mike Zimmer signed a Vikings extension in the 2016 offseason, the terms were not disclosed. But the sixth-year Minnesota coach revealed Thursday 2019 is the final year of his contract. While another extension could be on the way, Zimmer is, as of now, a lame-duck leader. The 62-year-old coach said he would not resign nor retire until his contract was up. It’s not unheard of for a coach to venture through a contract year, but it is obviously abnormal. The Vikings have qualified for the playoffs twice in Zimmer’s five years but were one of this season’s most disappointing teams, falling short of January football despite a roster full of extended veterans.

Here is the latest from the coaching circuit:

  • Elsewhere on the Vikings’ staff, the team is working to re-sign special teams coordinator Mike Preifer, Alex Marvez of Sirius XM Radio reports (on Twitter). Minnesota is, however, exploring alternatives in case a re-up is not finalized. Preifer has been Minnesota’s ST coordinator since 2011. Preifer did not sign the rollover option after last season, per ESPN.com’s Courtney Cronin (Twitter link), making him a coaching free agent next week.
  • Brian Flores is set to meet with four teams in the coming days, and the Patriots linebackers coach’s first stop appears to be Miami. The Dolphins are making Flores their first interview, which Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald tweets will begin Thursday night and last into Friday. Flores is slated to meet with the Browns, Broncos and Packers as well.
  • Another coach up for the Broncos‘ job, Zac Taylor is not the favorite going into the interview process, Troy Renck of Denver7 tweets. That could be expected of a 35-year-old position coach, and it could indicate the Broncos are serious about bringing Gary Kubiak back to the sideline as their OC. John Elway said a coaching role for Kubiak was being considered. A Taylor hire would seemingly impede this, but former Broncos running back C.J. Anderson said the similarities between the Rams’ offense and Kubiak’s Denver attack helped him assimilate quickly in Los Angeles. Mike Klis of 9News wonders if this could make a Taylor-Kubiak setup possible, with Klint Kubiak moving up to quarterbacks coach.
  • Flores’ Broncos interview will occur Monday. So will Vic Fangio‘s, per ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold. Taylor and Mike Munchak will interview for the job on Friday. The Broncos finished their Chuck Pagano meeting Wednesday.
  • The Bills are moving on from two assistants, including special teams coordinator Danny Crossman, per ESPN.com’s Mike Rodak (on Twitter). As ESPN’s Seth Walder notes (via Twitter), Buffalo finished this season with the NFL’s worst special teams efficiency rating. Buffalo also fired wide receivers coach Terry Robiskie, Marvez tweets. Twice an interim head coach, with the Redskins and Browns, Robiskie just completed his 37th season as an NFL coach. He’s been a wideouts coach for five teams; Crossman was a pre-Sean McDermott-era holdover, joining the Bills’ staff as ST coordinator in 2013.
  • Detroit will move on from another offensive assistant, firing Derius Swinton, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press (on Twitter). Just 33, Swinton has already been an NFL assistant for 10 seasons, serving as the 49ers’ ST coordinator in 2016. Although he helped in that area in Detroit following Joe Marciano‘s midseason firing, his primary role was on offense. The Lions and OC Jim Bob Cooter parted ways this week. Despite serving under Cooter, Swinton was a Matt Patricia hire.

North Coaching Rumors: Fitzgerald, Harbaugh, Bengals

We heard last night that the Packers are interested in Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald, and now there is some fire for that smoke, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports that Green Bay is expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald after Northwestern plays in tomorrow’s Holiday Bowl. It is unclear whether Fitzgerald will accept the interview request, but Packers CEO and president Mark Murphy was Northwestern’s athletic director when Fitzgerald was hired as the Wildcats’ head coach in 2006, and the two men have a great deal of respect for each other.

Now for more coaching rumors from the league’s north divisions:

  • Schefter reports that at least one team that is considering a head coaching change is also considering calling the Ravens about a potential trade for head coach John Harbaugh if Baltimore is eliminated from postseason contention today, and Jay Glazer of FOX Sports (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk) says multiple teams are thinking about making a run at the 11th-year HC. The Ravens announced earlier this month, despite weeks of rumors to the contrary, that Harbaugh would remain in Baltimore in 2019, but his future with the club still does not feel like a slam dunk. Florio suggests that Baltimore would want at least two first-round picks in exchange for Harbaugh.
  • No one is sure what will happen with Marvin Lewis and the Bengals, and his assistant coaches are actively trying to find out, per Florio. Some believe Lewis will retire from coaching and begin a broadcasting career, while others believe he could become a candidate for the Cardinals‘ head coaching job. If Lewis moves on, Florio writes — as has been reported numerous times — that Hue Jackson would be a candidate to replace him, as would current Vikings head coach (and former Cincinnati DC) Mike Zimmer. Zimmer would perhaps be interested in the Bengals’ gig, per Florio, but much would depend on whether Minnesota would let him leave and if the Vikings would demand significant compensation in exchange.
  • The Vikings will likely attempt to promote interim OC Kevin Stefanski to the full-time job in 2019, per Ian Rapoport of NFL.com. The problem is that Stefanski is only under contract through 2018, so Minnesota may have to fight to retain him.
  • We heard several weeks ago that Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams has a chance to get the “interim” tag removed, and Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reports that Cleveland will indeed give Williams serious consideration (though the team will obviously interview other candidates and continue its full-blown search). Ownership remains high on Patriots OC Josh McDaniels, but if the team does not give Williams the full-time job, it will risk losing the bulk of the staff that has led the Browns’ promising turnaround this year.
  • Lions OC Jim Bob Cooter‘s contract is up at the end of the season, per Rapoport, who suggests that it would be a surprise if Cooter remained in Detroit in 2019. The 34-year-old is expected to be a highly-coveted OC candidate assuming he and the Lions part ways. Unsurprisingly, Rapoport says head coach Matt Patricia is safe [SOURCE LINK].

Zygi Wilf Says Mike Zimmer’s Job Is Safe

Despite taking fire recently from fans and the media, Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer‘s job is not in jeopardy according to team owner Zygi Wilf, Bob Sansevere of the Pioneer Press writes

“We’re very happy with the coach and the entire coaching staff,” Wilf said. “It’s great to be in this position in December, that’s for sure. I’m very proud we stepped up and answered any questions about who we were as a team. I think we showed we were one of the best and can beat anyone on any given day.”

Considering he made the comments following Minnesota’s 41-17 win over Miami, Wilf was unlikely to make a statement saying his coaching staff was on the hot seat. The victory kept the Vikings in control of the sixth and final playoff spot.
After reaching the NFC Championship Game a year ago and splurging on Kirk Cousins in the offseason, the Vikings got off to a 6-6-1 start when many fans and pundits expected them to compete for the conference’s top seed. After scuffling on offense, the team made its first move when it fired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo following last week’s 21-7 loss to the Seahawks. Kevin Stefanski was elevated to the role and the offense thrived by putting a greater emphasis on the running game and Dalvin Cook.
The move could be the one to right the Vikings’ ship. But even if Minnesota struggles down the stretch, it is unlikely that Zimmer, considered one of the game’s top coaches, would be going anywhere.

 

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

North Rumors: Steelers, Vikes, Ravens, Lions

While Le’Veon Bell has given no indication as to when he’ll report to the Steelers, those involved in the matter “estimate” Bell will arrive on Saturday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com (Twitter link). That’s far from a declarative report, but showing on Saturday would allow Bell to receive his game check for Pittsburgh’s Week 1 contest, even though he almost certainly won’t play in the game. The Steelers won’t rescind Bell’s franchise tag, which is scheduled to pay him roughly $14.5MM for the 2018 season, nor will they trade the All-Pro running back, per Rapoport. Bell’s agent suggested workload is a concern for the superstar, but head coach Mike Tomlin says he won’t discuss Bell’s projected usage with the latter’s representation, per Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL.com (Twitter link).

Here’s more from the NFL’s two North divisions:

  • After years of moonlighting as the Vikings‘ defensive play-caller, head coach Mike Zimmer admits he’s considered handing duties off to coordinator George Edwards, per Courtney Cronin of ESPN.com. However, Zimmer is confident is his ability to make adjustments late in games, and also doesn’t want to constantly second-guess Edwards. “I have a style of how I call a game. George, even though he tries to do it like I do it, I don’t want to tell him, ‘Oh I hate that call’ or ‘You should’ve called this,'” said Zimer. “I don’t think that’s fair to him. If I want something called, I should call it.”
  • Ravens kicker Kaare Vedvik, who was hospitalized with severe head injuries over the weekend, is now visiting the club at its facility, reports Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com (Twitter link). Vedvik, who had injuries consistent with an assault, was placed on the non-football injury list. Rival teams were reportedly interested in the rookie kicker heading into roster cutdowns, and a trade market could have existed. Vedvik won’t be eligible to play this season, but could compete for a role in 2019 if he’s fully healthy.
  • The Lions didn’t have a single player they cut over the weekend land on another roster via a waiver claim or a free agent signing, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes. While that could indicate Detroit made all the correct decisions on Saturday/Sunday, it could also mean the Lions have a weakness at the back of their roster. With that in mind, the Lions and general manager Bob Quinn could make adding depth a priority over the next few weeks.

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.”