After back to back statement wins against Balitmore and Pittsburgh, and three straight games of defensive brilliance, Mike Zimmer's stock has never been higher. He is a free agent after this year, and many have him on the short list of head coaching hires going into the off-season.
The Bengals have a decision to make. Regardless of how this season ends up, Zimmer is going to attract a lot of attention from around the league. He has taken a horrific defense and turned them into a unit that is playing (as of right now) tougher than anyone in the AFC, and arguably the NFL. He did that by having a system where he identified his type of players, and then went out and got them...be it through the draft, free agency or off the scrap heap. I truly believe the two biggest reasons why this team is 7-2 right now is because of stability at the center position and Mike Zimmer.
Every year there are firings, and some teams will have a lot of cash to throw at Zimmer to be their next head coach. Throw into the mix that after this year's tragedy with Zimmer's wife, it would be very understandable if Zimmer wanted a fresh start in a new city, possibly to be closer with his kids.
Flashback to 1997, when Boomer Esiason returned to Cincinnati after stops in New York with the Jets and in Arizona. Esiason took over for Blake-mania, and went 4-1 as a starter with a 13/2 TD to INT ratio. The Bengals finished 7-9 after a 1-7 start, and Boomer was ready to comeback for at least one more season (if the price was right). Mike Brown, however, didn't offer Boomer a contract, instead wanting him to the take the opportunity that ABC was affording him to become the new guy in the booth for Monday Night Football. Brown felt that this was a great way for Boomer to start his career into broadcasting, and being on MNF was too much to pass up. Or maybe he didn't want to actually pay him...with Jeff Blake already under contract. Or maybe it was a little of both. (To be fair, Brown has always paid quarterbacks, so I think it was a genuine feeling that the MNF shot was too good for Boomer to pass up, along with the fact that he was going to draft a QB in 1998 or 1999 to be the centerpiece of Paul Brown Stadium when it opened in 2000).
Regardless, Boomer did head for a forgettable run in the Monday Night Football booth with Al Michaels, and the Bengals floundered for another five seasons until Marvin Lewis's arrival in 2003.
Here's the bottom line...
Mike Zimmer's stock will never be higher in his career. To make the Cincinnati Bengals defense the toughest in the AFC North, a divisionwith Baltimore and Pittsburgh, was next to impossible. This defense couldn't find tough with a handful of barbed wire. Teams will be backing the Brinks truck up at PBS, there's no doubt in my mind.
However, this situation is very reminiscent of Boomer Esiason in 1997. Will Mike Brown ignore the obvious 2012-type impact Mike Zimmer has had on this franchise in order let him become a head coach elsewhere because that's the nice thing to do? Or will Marvin Lewis have enough juice to convince Brown to open up the checkbook and keep Zimmer here in Cincinnati?
Another item to remember was the organization's kindness during for Vikki Zimmer's funeral, flying family members in town and making all the arrangements. Not saying that would keep Zimmer here for sure, but for a guy like Zimmer, it seems like loyalty goes a long way.
Mike Brown, the ball is in your court. Making an offer now and locking up Zimmer for another three seasons would eliminate all speculation going into the offseason, and it would ensure a real presence on the defensive side of the ball. Don't let your heart get in the way of winning football in Cincinnati.