INDIANAPOLIS — Mike Zimmer didn't mince words when asked about the Minnesota Vikings' quarterback situation on Thursday. He knows his job is on the line and it's tied to which QB (or rather, quarterbacks plural) the Vikings end up choosing.
"It’s important … we pick the right guy," Zimmer said at the NFL scouting combine. "If we don’t, I probably will get fired."
That's a pretty bold statement, and perhaps a bit hyperbolic considering the Vikings reached the NFC championship game in his fourth season. Overall, he's 39-25 as head coach and oversaw the Vikings' first playoff victory — the Minneapolis Miracle — since the 2009 season. Zimmer isn't getting fired anytime soon, one wouldn't imagine.
However, with the Vikings expecting to have a trio of free agents at quarterback, the team most certainly is entering a flashpoint. Case Keenum and Sam Bradford are unrestricted free agents, and Vikings GM Rick Spielman said Wednesday that he's expecting the NFL to rule that Teddy Bridgewater will join Keenum and Bradford.
That means that as of March 14, the Vikings could have one QB on their roster: That would be Kyle Sloter, he of the zero regular-season snaps. The team could stay with one of the familiar faces. They also have been rumored to be making a run at Kirk Cousins, the prize of the free-agent QB market.
So how will the Vikings navigate this tricky, really unique situation?
"If you go with the right one and he does like you anticipate, then everything is good," Zimmer said. "If you pick the wrong one, it's hard to win in this league without a quarterback. If you pick the wrong one, this whole thing can go downhill."
Zimmer said he loved all three of his quarterbacks, noting that they "busted their butts" for him. But injuries clearly play into the equation. And for Keenum, as well as he played in guiding the Vikings to the postseason, it was a breakout season. Zimmer pulled no punches on the questions that come with all of them, creating a more tricky decision for the team.
"That’s really the $64,000 question with all three of these guys," Zimmer said. "Can Sam stay healthy? Is Teddy what he was? Is Case the guy he was last year or two years ago?"
If you're a read-between-the-lines person, you might take note that Zimmer prioritized the need for continuity and how invaluable it is to have players who understand how the Vikings go about their business. Zimmer also pointed out how much the team has emphasized creating a strong culture and how bringing in a new quarterback could affect that.
Does that mean Zimmer is anti-Cousins? He certainly didn't say that much. But Zimmer did indicate that he doesn't want what he's perceived as the strength of the team — its defense — being affected by having to overspend at quarterback. Everything is a sliding scale as it relates to the salary cap, and committing, say, $30 million per year to Cousins could prevent them from keeping some key future free agents such as Eric Kendricks, Anthony Barr or Stefon Diggs.
"The one thing I told [Spielman] was, I said, 'Look, we've had a good team, that's why we've won 40 games,'" Zimmer said. "It's not because we've had this one guy or that one guy. Let's make sure we keep understanding the team is why we have done good things.
"You just have to pick out the right one [quarterback] that's going to help your football team the best. And where you can still do things at other positions. You don't want to go crazy here."
Zimmer is a huge Bridgewater fan. He loves all three, Zimmer said. But it's not hard to see how much respect Zimmer has for Bridgewater, who overcame a devastating 2016 knee injury to return to the field this past season. Could he return in 2018?
"I love Teddy. I’ve said that before," Zimmer said. "This kid is a great competitor with a heart of a lion [and] of a champion. He does everything he possibly can to be ready. I wouldn’t have dressed the guy until he was ready during the season. I was comfortable playing him. Obviously, he got in a couple of snaps in the game.
"I am hopeful for Teddy, No. 1, that he has an outstanding career. He’s earned it, he deserves it — hopefully it’s with me, but [if not] I’ll wish him the best of luck and give him a hug and hope for the best for him."
Bringing back Bridgewater likely means that the Vikings also have to buttress the position with more QB help, given his health concerns — both short and long term. It's just another layer of how difficult this decision will be and where the collateral damage might factor in if the Vikings end up having to spend big money at the position to get it right.