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Zulgad: Vikings’ most important offseason decision remains a mystery

There has been speculation since the Vikings’ season ended about Stefon Diggs’ future with the franchise, whether Dalvin Cook and/or Kirk Cousins will receive contract extensions and which veterans might be jettisoned in order to save room under the salary cap.

What hasn’t received as much attention is what might be the two most important contract issues facing owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. General manger Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer are both signed through 2020 but at this point that’s all we know.

A year ago, Spielman announced at the NFL Scouting Combine that the Vikings had exercised the option on Zimmer’s contract for 2020. The Vikings had entered 2018 with huge expectations but disappointed by missing the playoffs in Cousins’ first season. So while Zimmer and Spielman were assured of being paid through 2020, there was still immense pressure to make the postseason in 2019.

The Vikings went 10-6 this season to get into the playoffs as a wild card and then upset the New Orleans Saints in the first round before being handled easily by San Francisco. As far as the direction the Vikings are going to take for 2020, there would appear to be a few options.

This would include trying to run things back with the current core group and see what Cousins can do in the final season of his three-year contract. There also is the possibility the Vikings could look to extend Cousins, and free up much-needed salary-cap space for 2020, or even draft a quarterback whom they see as Cousins’ eventual successor and start looking toward the future.

But that direction isn’t going to become clear until we know what ownership’s plan for its football operations department is going to be. It’s rare for an NFL coach to work in the final season of his contract — although Mike Tice did it in 2005 before being fired by the Wilfs after the final game of the regular season — but even tacking on one more year to Zimmer and Spielman’s contracts assures them of nothing.

In either case, whether working in the final season of their deals or having one more year, there would be immediate pressure to win and, thus, the majority of the roster decisions would be made for the short term. Why bother drafting a quarterback of the future, or an offensive tackle who won’t be developed for a few seasons, if there’s a good chance you won’t be around?

This is in no way calling for Zimmer and Spielman to get multi-year extensions, but at some point Vikings ownership is going to have to pick the path it wants to go down and decide who is going to be the key leadership.

If Zimmer, who will turn 64 on June 5, and Spielman, 57, did get three- or four-year extensions, it becomes easier for them to look at shaping the roster not only based on what’s best for 2020 but also what might be best for 2023. If Zimmer and Spielman had felt last spring as if they had margin for error there’s little chance they take center Garrett Bradbury with their first-round pick and plug him in immediately. That was done because the brass knew they had to do something drastic to address the center position to help an offensive line coming off a poor 2018 season.

Will Spielman and Zimmer continue to make decisions that seem on the panicked side? If they do, it might be the one clue we get that the duo hasn’t been given any security.


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