Mike Zimmer’s eight-year run with the Minnesota Vikings didn’t go as planned. His squad went 72-56-1 in the regular season but never won a Super Bowl, and their two playoff wins (out of five appearances) both came against the New Orleans Saints. Now he’s a 65-year-old free agent with an uncertain NFL future.
And Saints head coach Sean Payton would be wise to try and recruit him for New Orleans. Zimmer is an outstanding defensive coach, having built some of the most effective units in recent memory. His defenses never ranked lower than 14th in yards or 11th in points allowed from 2014 to 2019, only trailing off the last two years after injuries, age, and poor drafting eroded the depth chart. They had more finishes inside the top six in each category than outside of it during that span.
Landing with the Saints could be just what Zimmer needs to find a second wind for his coaching career, no matter what happens with Dennis Allen — the Saints’ defensive coordinator is scheduled to interview with the Chicago Bears soon for their vacant head coaching job. Adding his experienced eye to the coaching staff would be big.
It almost makes too much sense. Zimmer is one of the Payton’s oldest friends around the NFL, having worked together on Bill Parcells’ legendary Dallas Cowboys staff, with Payton’s offense running against Zimmer’s defense every day in practice. Bringing Zimmer in as a senior defensive assistant could really pay off with younger position coaches like Ryan Nielsen (defensive line/assistant head coach), Kris Richard (secondary), and Michael Hodges (linebackers) in prominent positions. If Allen ends up leaving for Chicago or another job, one of them would probably step up into his role as defensive coordinator. Zimmer would be a great resource for them to lean on.
And if Allen does stay put, maybe Zimmer can offer some insight to his blind spots. The Saints have really struggled to defend mobile quarterbacks lately, which was best illustrated in their two games with Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles the last two years. Hurts totaled 36 carries for 175 rushing yards and three scores against them. If Zimmer can patch up that vulnerability alone (which also played a part in frustrating losses to Daniel Jones’ New York Giants and Josh Allen’s Buffalo Bills in 2021), it would justify getting him on payroll.
Of course you have to wonder if Zimmer would be interested in more of a supervisory role after running his own team for so many years. He’s overqualified for it, and probably wants to call his own shots as a defensive coordinator somewhere. That could happen in New Orleans, but a year away from the heavy responsibilities that come as a head coach might be good for him. It’s certainly been good for ex-Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn, who is drawing a lot of attention for a second shot after his great year managing the Dallas Cowboys defense.
And he wouldn’t be the only former head coach in a senior assistant role around the league: Jim Schwartz (formerly with the Detroit Lions) has that title on the Tennessee Titans staff, as does Mike Pettine (an ex-Cleveland Browns head coach) with the Bears, and Dom Capers (the first head coach for both the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans) in Detroit.
This specific title may be beneath Zimmer, but there’s precedent for this kind of move in the NFL. Payton and the Saints would be wise to at least give him a call. The worst thing he could say is no.
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