Vikings coach Mike Zimmer will coach the team in 2019. Beyond that, who knows?
Zimmer, who reiterated at an end-of-season press conference on Thursday that he’ll neither resign nor retire, acknowledged that he has one year left on his deal.
“Sure, I’ve got no problem with that,” Zimmer said with a smile. “Free agent after that, right?”
Right, but what does the absence of a contract beyond 2019 say? The Vikings have made it clear that Zimmer will return next season. The absence of a contract beyond the next season can be interpreted in various ways, the most common of which being that the team isn’t willing to make a financial commitment for 2020 because the team may want to make that commitment to someone else.
Zimmer wouldn’t be the first coach to coach out his contract. Ravens coach John Harbaugh may be doing it. Others have, too.
Former Vikings coach Mike Tice, the man in charge when Zygi and Mark Wilf bought the team in 2005, finished that season and abruptly was informed there would be no new contract. But Tice had other issues — and he wasn’t nearly as successful as Zimmer, who is one of the best coaches in the 58-year history of a franchise previously led by the likes of Bud Grant and Dennis Green.
Zimmer has generated a record of 48-34-1, with playoff appearances in two of five seasons. That should be good enough to get another contract, and maybe that will happen before the next season begins.
Still, Zimmer’s short-term contractual status could tempt one of the eight teams currently looking for a new coach to call the Vikings and inquire about a trade. That’s how the chatter about Zimmer possibly making an exit first came up in league circles, given the chatter that Bengals owner Mike Brown could try to bring Zimmer back to Cincinnati.
“I’m not a quitter,” Zimmer said in dismissing speculation that his one-year commitment in Minnesota could morph into zero. But would he be quitting if the Bengals contact the Vikings about potential compensation for hiring Zimmer, if the Bengals and Vikings strike a deal, and if the Bengals then speak directly to Zimmer about a contract that would extend beyond 2019?
That’s the procedure, and it’s hard to call the end result “quitting” if it happens only after the Vikings first say, “Yeah, we’d take a second-round pick if you hire him” (or whatever the compensation would be).
Zimmer may not like the speculation, but the speculation lingers. At least he doesn’t have games for which the speculation could become a distraction; Harbaugh has been dealing with speculation regarding a potential trade for more than two weeks, and he has demonstrated no irritation or frustration with discussion regarding the possibility that, when the season ends, another team will try to Harbaugh him away from Baltimore.