MINNEAPOLIS -- If there was ever a time for the Wilf family to consider taking the Minnesota Vikings franchise in a different direction, now is not it.
A global pandemic is threatening the 2020 NFL season. A host of players are choosing to sit out, and others are being moved to the reserve/COVID-19 list almost daily. Change isn't what the Wilf's were looking for when faced with executing critical decisions that will affect the short- and long-term health of their team.
When coach Mike Zimmer received a three-year contract extension at the end of July, it was only a matter of time before general manager Rick Spielman got the same deal. On Monday, the Vikings announced Spielman's extension, continuing the practice of having the coach and GM contracts synced up since Zimmer was hired in 2014.
Their seven-year working relationship has included three postseason appearances, a trip to the NFC Championship Game, roster turnover and franchise-altering free-agent decisions with the signing of quarterback Kirk Cousins in 2018. With their deals, Zimmer and Spielman have been given time to see their vision through over the next four seasons.
For better or worse, Spielman and Zimmer are bound to each other. And their legacy, at least at this stage, will be defined by the success of the quarterback they hedged their careers on.
If they discover Cousins ultimately isn't the answer, they both have one last shot to figure out the quarterback position on the final year of their contracts. Cousins received a two-year contract extension in March that keeps him with the Vikings through the 2022 season. If the Vikings move on after that point, Spielman and Zimmer will need to act quickly to find the right quarterback to lead Minnesota to a championship.
If it doesn't happen by then, it may be the end of this long-tenured partnership.
Still, the way the Wilfs see it, the Vikings are good enough to win a Super Bowl under this leadership.
"Rick has been outstanding in his role as Vikings general manager," Minnesota co-owner/team president Mark Wilf said. "We are excited and honored to have him continue to lead our efforts to build a championship roster and first-class organization. With Rick's and Coach Zimmer's leadership in place, we are in a great position to continue to compete for a Super Bowl."
The list of coaches and general managers who have both been with the same team since 2015 is relatively short. The six years Zimmer and Spielman have had together is the longest for any current duo that hasn't won a Super Bowl, according to ESPN Stats and Information research. In fact, every other duo on this list -- Sean Payton/Mickey Loomis (Saints), Mike Tomlin/Kevin Colbert (Steelers), Pete Carroll/John Schneider (Seahawks) and Dan Quinn/Thomas Dimitroff (Falcons) -- has made a Super Bowl appearance, and every duo except Quinn and Dimitroff has won.
Those figures don't matter much to the Wilfs, who had the opportunity to start over fresh after the 2020 season with both positions if they wanted. Zimmer and Spielman were entering the final year of their deals in 2020.
They have the belief from ownership, and now the duo needs to carry out their vision to get this franchise over the hump, starting with consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in the Zimmer era.
Spielman says their vision is the "same" entering the 2020 season.
"When Coach Zim came in and we hired him as our head coach, we had a vision of how we wanted to build this team," Spielman said. "I know this year we have a lot of new faces that are coming into the organization, a lot of new players, a totally different challenge because the coaches haven't been able to work with these players until this time when we're technically kind of opening up training camp. But I think it's sticking to your principles, sticking to everything that you believe in on how you build a winning culture.
"He's talked about it numerous times, from the type of players that we want to bring in that are smart, very passionate, high-character guys off the field. But also I think it's not only the players, but there's gotta be that culture with the coaching staff, there's gotta be that culture with everybody under the football operations umbrella. And when you can bring all that together with the same goals, the same common vision, I think that's where you hopefully will make the breakthrough."
It takes time to win a Super Bowl -- see the 21 years Andy Reid spent as a head coach before winning his first with the Kansas City Chiefs last season. Zimmer knows that all too well, having won a Super Bowl as an assistant with the Dallas Cowboys during the 1995 season and not getting back since.
It's something that hasn’t happened for Spielman in his career. With several more years added to his Minnesota tenure, the general manager’s window to build a Super Bowl caliber team is the only thing he’s focused on.
“I know every day we come to this building, and the only thing that we want to accomplish is to win a Super Bowl,” Spielman said. “There’s no one that deserves that honor more than our ownership, this organization and especially our fans. I promise you that when we come in here every day, that is our ultimate goal.”
The belief in Zimmer and Spielman by Vikings ownership is at a high point. By committing to the duo on with the aim of winning the team's first Lombardi Trophy, the Wilfs believe the body of work they've witnessed from both is more than good enough. Ownership expects that a Super Bowl is not just a possibility, but something that will come in due time.