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Offseason | 2024

Mike Zimmer expected to become Cowboys' DC


FRISCO, Texas — There's a new, yet familiar, face that is expected to head [back] to the Dallas Cowboys in 2024. Mike Zimmer, who was a longtime assistant/position coach in Dallas at the turn of the century, has agreed to terms on a new contract that will see him take over the role of defensive coordinator — per multiple reports that include — a seat vacated by the departure of Dan Quinn to the Washington Commanders.

On Thursday at NFL Honors, owner/GM Jerry Jones said on the Red Carpet that he's been speaking to his "future" defensive coach and plans to have a deal finalized with Zimmer soon, in hopes before the end of the night.

Zimmer was a headline name interviewing for the position, along with former Commanders' head coach Ron Rivera, one day after the Cowboys held an internal interview with defensive line coach Aden Durde.

Their previously scheduled Monday sitdown with Joe Whitt Jr. was canceled on Sunday, when he accepted Quinn’s offer to join him in Washington as that team’s defensive coordinator.

And, with that, a major overhaul was set to occur on the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff.

For Zimmer, it's a reunion with Dallas' front office and an instant tandem with Mike McCarthy, who both manages the team as head coach while also handling the offensive play-calling duties, and it marks the second change at defensive coordinator since McCarthy took over as head coach in 2020 — moving on quickly from Mike Nolan after just one season.

With McCarthy entering a prove-it year in 2024, it makes sense he'd have little interest in an upstart coordinator, and will again go with a proven NFL commodity in the role and, make no mistake about it, Zimmer is most certainly that.

As mentioned, he spent the better part of 13 seasons — stretching from his days as a defensive assistant under Barry Switzer in 1994 to defensive backs coach and ultimately defensive coordinator under Dave Campo and eventually Bill Parcells in his final six seasons in Dallas.

In that span, Zimmer coached some of the most notable players in franchise history, including Darren Woodson, Dexter Coakley, Dat Nguyen, Roy Williams (the safety), Greg Ellis, La'Roi Glover, Terence Newman, and Hall of Famer such as DeMarcus Ware and Deion Sanders, amongst others.

He also earned a Super Bowl ring as defensive backs coach of the 1995 Cowboys, part of a defense that ranked third in the NFL that season in points allowed (18.2 per game).

The 67-year-old has, much like the Cowboys he left behind, been chasing another Super Bowl appearance and victory ever since — his path taking him to the Atlanta Falcons as defensive coordinator (2007), the Cincinnati Bengals in the same role (2008-2013) and, finally, the Minnesota Vikings (2014-2021) as head coach and defensive play-caller.

He fell just one step shy of returning to The Big Game in 2017, in an NFC Championship matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles, boasting a defense that ranked No. 1 in both points allowed (15.8 per game) and yards allowed that season.

It would become his only shot at landing a Lombardi in Minnesota, he and the team divorcing following the 2021 season before Zimmer signed on as a consultant at Jackson State.

Having now been away from the league for two seasons, he's not only returned, but for the team that helped turn him into one of the best defensive minds in the league and, also importantly, one he helped land their last Lombardi Trophy.

He inherits a defense that boasts Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence and two record-setting cornerbacks in Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland as cornerstone pieces, with plenty of other impact starters and talented rotational guys as well, such as Osa Odighizuwa on the interior of his defensive line.

How things shake up beneath Zimmer will be determined soon and fairly quickly, considering the fact the Cowboys must quickly shift gears to focusing on the NFL Combine and 2024 NFL Draft; Zimmer having already missed out on participating in scouting at the East-West Shrine Bowl and the Reese's Senior Bowl in Mobile.

He's going to have to hit the ground running in a major way.

Typically a purveyor of the 3-4 defense under Parcells (but a 4-3 coordinator prior to that), time will tell if he looks to move the Cowboys from their current installment of the 4-3, but that's negligible nowadays in the NFL when considering nickel defense is truly the base defense in which Dallas (and most defenses) operate nowadays.

Run defense will need to be bolstered and how Zimmer handles his personnel overall will be key, e.g., re-sign Johnathan Hankins? Seek out another true linebacker in free agency (such as Bobby Wagner) considering how prevalent LBs are to what Zimmer likes to do schematically??

Zimmer isn't one who loves a lot of flex, but he instead prefers his players to excel in the position they've been living in for most of their football career.

Hint: It's likely flexbacker Markquese Bell, as one example, returns to the safeties room.

The bigger question is can the Cowboys' defense be as proficient in taking the ball away under Zimmer as they were in their three seasons under Quinn?

In the aforementioned Vikings' season that saw Zimmer lead his team and defense to the NFC Championship, the glaring opportunity for improvement was in the category of takeaways, where the Vikings ranked just 23rd that season.

For contrast, under Quinn, the Cowboys' defense ranked No. 3, No. 1 and No. 4 over the last three seasons, respectively.

If the current stable of players can simply transfer what they've learned from Quinn in that regard to what Zimmer brings to the table in teaching each player how their play directly ties to the other 10 guys on the field, the Cowboys could potentially take the next and final step defensively.

As tough-nosed as they come, Zimmer has seen it all in this league, and his resume speaks for itself. Granted, he's not one of the young up-and-comers, but that's not exactly what the Cowboys need with all of their chips being allegedly pushed to the middle of the table in 2024.

They're betting that Zimmer, like Quinn before him, won't need a 1-2 year ramp-up period to get the defense to where it needs to be.

They expect it to happen immediately, and they're shooting their shot.

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