The Vikings head into Sunday's finale against the Bears with the very real possibility that Mike Zimmer is coaching Minnesota for the final time.
Owners Zygi and Mark Wilf have kept their plans close to the vest, sources say. All signs point to the Wilfs moving on from Zimmer after eight seasons, but they hadn't communicated any decision to Zimmer or other team officials as of Saturday. Several sources with knowledge of the coaching landscape say the belief is the team will move on, as well.
Zimmer is 71-56-1 as the Vikings' head coach -- third behind only Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bud Grant and Dennis Green in team history in wins and win percentage (.559). But Minnesota has missed the playoffs five times in eight seasons, including the past two. While Zimmer has taken the team deep into the playoffs, reaching the NFC championship game following the 2017 season on the "Minneapolis Miracle", there are questions about whether the team has reached its ceiling under existing leadership and is in need of a reboot.
The finality of the situation does seem to have reached Zimmer. He addressed it this week during an interview with longtime team broadcaster Paul Allen.
"Regardless of anything that goes on after the season, I can stand proud," Zimmer said in the interview. "When I walk into a stadium like Lambeau (Field) or I walk into U.S. Bank Stadium and I say to myself, 'A billion people would love to be sitting here right now and doing this job.'"
For a veteran team that appeared playoff-ready based on the personnel, it has been a roller-coaster season. The Vikings started 1-3 and have had 14 one-score games. There have been heart-stopping finishes that too often went the other way.
The Vikings' playoff hopes slipped away with losses the past two weeks to the Rams and Packers without their full offensive arsenal because of COVID-19. Running back Dalvin Cook tested positive and missed the Rams game, and quarterback Kirk Cousins did the same and missed the game against the Packers, leaving backup Sean Mannion in charge of a 37-10 debacle on national TV. Meanwhile, Zimmer's defense has stumbled badly, entering Week 18 ranked 31st in yards allowed and 25th in scoring.
Other important decisions await this offseason, including on Cousins, who has had another strong year statistically -- he enters Sunday with 30 touchdowns, just seven interceptions and a 101.3 passer rating -- but has been to the playoffs just once in four seasons as Minnesota's QB. He's fully guaranteed $35 million in the last year of his contract in 2022 with a more than $45 million salary cap number, which the Vikings could lower by extending him again.