Vikings' Mike Zimmer has luxury of patience, but that's not stopping him

Why the Vikings need to be cautious with Cook's contract talks (0:48)

Dan Orlovsky explains why the Vikings need to be wary of giving Dalvin Cook an "overly generous" contract extension. (0:48)

Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer's contract extension took longer to get finalized than he anticipated. Though there wasn't ever a point when he thought an agreement wouldn't be reached, as the start of training camp grew closer, Zimmer was getting antsy.

It's a similar sentiment with how he feels about the 2020 NFL season amid a time of uncertainty with new challenges at every turn.

Days after Zimmer signed his extension, the Vikings were hit with a major COVID-19 curveball. Head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman, who is also the team's infection control officer, tested positive for the virus, and four rookies, including first-round receiver Justin Jefferson, were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. On the day veterans reported to camp, nose tackle Michael Pierce, the Vikings' biggest free-agent acquisition of the offseason who was set to replace Linval Joseph, opted out of the 2020 season due to respiratory concerns.

And while running back Dalvin Cook did show up for training camp after threatening a hold out, his contract situation is far from resolved.

These incidents seem par for the course for the calamity Zimmer has dealt with during his time in Minnesota, including losing two quarterbacks to season-ending injuries, rotating through five offensive coordinators since 2016 and undergoing eight eye surgeries after his retina detached almost four years ago.

Zimmer, who has a 57-38-1 record, has learned how to navigate challenging times while keeping his team on the winning edge. But the difficulties posed in a season threatened by a global pandemic might be unlike anything he has ever faced.

The three-year contract extension that keeps Zimmer in Minnesota through the 2023 season -- one year after quarterback Kirk Cousins' deal is set to expire -- was one he felt compelled to push for. Zimmer, 64, has never been fired in his 41-year coaching career, but he has said it has always been in the back of his mind.

"When we started talking about negotiations we felt like that was very, very important to me, partly because of my age," Zimmer said. "If I go one more year [after the 2021 season] I'll be 66 or something. My chance of being a head coach somewhere else would probably be not as good, so I wanted to be here with the Vikings. I wanted to be here with the group that we've put together, the front office, the coaches and the players, so that was important to me that we were able to do that."

Zimmer's extension is also important for the health of the franchise. With so much roster turnover, particularly on defense, and a 15-player draft class with many who will have to make an expedited jump from college to the NFL and play meaningful snaps right away, another one-year extension wasn't going to cut it.

Zimmer was given a luxury rare for coaches: time.

He has the opportunity to make this season about player development and see the adjustments he wants to make while focusing on growing his team amid a roster revamp. But Zimmer doesn't have time to worry about having time.

"I'm not very patient," Zimmer said. "I don't know if we're going to worry about that too much. We're going to get these guys ready to go very, very fast. Patience probably isn't my best virtue."

Though Minnesota has the pieces in place to contend for an NFC North title this season and keep its status among the conference's heavyweights, the team has been constructed for the future. Outside expectations for 2020 can be tapered for several reasons. In 2021, after a year of reworking his defensive line and cornerback units along with the offensive line, expectations for the Vikings should take off.

In a 2020 season that will require patience, Zimmer doesn't have much to go around.

"It's obviously going to be a different offseason, different season, different practice, but it's a different world, too," Zimmer said. "Trying to come up with some innovative ways, how we can incorporate within the rules the things that we can do and still maintain a healthy environment for our players, and our coaches, I think is the most important thing. Trying to figure out what's the best way to take advantage of the rules and be successful on the field, at the same time still staying safe."

But throughout his career, very little has fallen into that category for Zimmer. The notion of being comfortable while being uncomfortable is one he knows well, and it has allowed him to thrive over his first six years in Minnesota.

This season isn't about conceding anything for Zimmer. If anything, the extension he received just reenergized him to push his foot down even harder on the gas.