Paul Zimmerman, one of the greatest NFL writers ever, dies at age 86

Among all the men and women who have written about professional football, few made a mark like Paul Zimmerman.

Fans from the 1970s to the 2000s learned more about the NFL through reading Zimmerman, often on the pages of Sports Illustrated and later on SI.com. Zimmerman died on Thursday at age 86, according to longtime Sports Illustrated co-worker Peter King.

For many football fans from ages 25 to 75, it’s a sad day. Zimmerman, affectionately known as “Dr. Z,” was one of the most influential voices of the NFL during its massive growth.

“He’s the Godfather of modern pro football writing,” King told NFL.com in 2017.

Paul Zimmerman was an icon in football writing circles

Zimmerman suffered a series of strokes in 2008, which left him unable to speak or write. That was a heartbreaking loss to the sportswriting world.

Before the strokes, Zimmerman was the template for much of the analysis we see on the NFL today. He was an analyst first, able to break down the Xs and Os of the game at an expert level. And he expressed himself without pulling punches or playing favorites.

Zimmerman’s 1970 book “A Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” and the 1984 sequel “New Thinking Man’s Guide to Pro Football” are considered two of the most influential books on football ever written. For some of Zimmerman’s best magazine work, SI.com did a “Dr. Z Week” in 2016 and linked to some of his best stories and some tributes here.

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Highest-paid player on every NFL team

Star Lotulelei, Buffalo Bills: $50 Million

  • Position: Defensive tackle
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $18,500,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $3,700,000

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Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints: $65 Million

  • Position: Left tackle
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $20,880,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $4,176,000

Terron Armstead signed his current five-year, $65 million contract prior to the 2016 season, but he’s failed to start 15 of the Saints’ 32 regular season games since that point.

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Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots: $65 Million

  • Position: Cornerback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $31,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $6,200,000

After five years in Buffalo, Stephon Gilmore jumped ship for the division-rival Patriots prior to last season, earning a trip to the Super Bowl in his first season in New England.

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Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: $66.4 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $44,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $14,666,667

Since winning Super Bowl XLVII to cap a successful 2012 season, Flacco has seen his performance decline, with 74 interceptions to just 98 touchdowns.

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Trumaine Johnson, New York Jets: $72.5 Million

  • Position: Cornerback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $34,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $6,800,000

The Jets — who signed Trumaine Johnson to a five-year $72.5 million contract this offseason — are hoping he returns to his career high in interceptions of seven from 2015 rather than the one and two he logged in 2016 and 2017 respectively.

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Jarvis Landry, Cleveland Browns: $75.5 Million

  • Position: Wide receiver
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $34,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $46,800,000

Jarvis Landry has a lot riding on him to replicate last year’s 112 receptions as he joins a Browns team that went a disappointing 0-16 last year.

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Ryan Tannehill, Miami Dolphins: $77 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $21,500,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $5,375,000

Ryan Tannehill’s 12 interceptions to just 19 touchdowns over 13 games last year could have some Dolphins fans regretting that big contract.

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Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans: $80 Million

  • Position: Left tackle
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $34,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $6,800,000

After being limited to just six starts in his first season, Taylor Lewan has missed just one game in the last three years.

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Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals: $82.5 Million

  • Position: Defensive end
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $31,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $6,200,000

Chandler Jones is an elite pass rusher, with more than 40 sacks over the last three seasons in New England and Arizona.

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Philip Rivers, Los Angeles Chargers: $83,250,000

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $37,500,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $9,375,000

Part of the legendary 2004 quarterback draft class that also included Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers eclipsed 50,000 career passing yards late last season.

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Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings: $84 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $84,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $28,000,000

Kirk Cousins came to Minnesota on a short three-year deal, but all $84 million in it is guaranteed. And his millions will likely last him — Cousins is one of the best NFL players when it comes to money.

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Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers: $87.4 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $34,250,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $8,562,500

Ben Roethlisberger is still playing on a four-year, $87.4 million contract he signed that keeps him in the Steel City through 2019.

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Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks: $87.6 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $31,700,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $7,925,000

Wilson tied his career high of 34 touchdown passes last season.

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Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants: $90 Million

  • Position: Wide receiver
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $40,959,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $8,191,800

The ink might not yet be dry on the five-year extension Odell Beckham Jr. signed with the Giants just before the season started.

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Alex Smith, Washington Redskins: $94 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $55,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $13,750,000

In this instance, Mr. Smith went to Washington via an offseason trade after leading the Chiefs to 50 wins during his five seasons in Kansas City.

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Marcell Dareus, Jacksonville Jaguars: $95.1 Million

  • Position: Defensive tackle
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $42,900,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $7,150,000

Marcell Dareus parlayed his 10-sack performance in 2014 into his current six-year $96.6 million deal, but the league might have gotten wise since then — he’s only managed 5.5 sacks since signing the deal.

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Gerald McCoy, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: $95.2 Million

  • Position: Defensive tackle
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $14,757,308
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $2,108,187

Gerald McCoy — who has been a Buc since they selected him third overall in the 2010 draft — needs only one and a half sacks this year to reach 50 for his career.

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Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals: $96 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $17,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $2,833,333

Andy Dalton might be the focus of some ire from Bengals fans, but it’s worth noting that the team is 64-44-2 since 2011 when he’s under center.

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Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys: $97.6 Million

  • Position: Left tackle
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $22,118,013
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $2,764,752

Tyron Smith signed his eight-year, $97.6 million contract prior to this season, but he can opt out after next season and test free agency.

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J.J. Watt, Houston Texans: $100 Million

  • Position: Defensive end
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $20,876,385
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $3,479,398

The nearly $21 million guaranteed for Watt is dwarfed by the $41.6 million he helped raise for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, the biggest crowd-sourced fundraiser in history.

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Justin Houston, Kansas City Chiefs: $101 Million

  • Position: Outside linebacker
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $32,500,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $5,416,667

Justin Houston’s 69.5 career sacks have to sting for Browns fans: They traded the Chiefs the pick they selected him with to grab Phil Taylor and his seven career sacks.

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Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles: $102.6 Million

  • Position: Defensive tackle
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $36,299,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $6,049,833

The Eagles had the fourth-ranked defense last year en route to their Super Bowl championship.

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Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers: $103.8 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $41,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $8,200,000

Cam Newton has the chance to opt out of his current contract at the end of the season, leaving him with a decision about whether he should test free agency for an even bigger deal in 2019.

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Von Miller, Denver Broncos: $114.5 Million

  • Position: Outside linebacker
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $42,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $7,000,000

Von Miller’s huge deal — signed in July 2016 — came on the heels of the team winning the Super Bowl behind its strong defense.

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Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts: $122,970,000

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $47,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $9,400,000

Andrew Luck recently revealed that the shoulder injury that kept him from playing a down last season could be traced back to a snowboarding accident in 2016.

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Derek Carr, Oakland Raiders: $125,025,000

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $40,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $8,000,000

Derek Carr signed his five-year, $125 million deal in June 2017 — the same year he saw his play regress with more than double the interceptions of the year prior.

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Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers: $134 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $78,700,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $19,675,000

Aaron Rodgers is looking to put the Packers back in the playoffs after missing nine games last season.

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Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams: $135 Million

  • Position: Defensive end
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $50,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $8,333,333

Aaron Donald’s $135 million deal came after 18 months of negotiations and a holdout over the preseason for the star defensive tackle.

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Matt Stafford, Detroit Lions: $135 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $60,500,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $12,100,000

The highest-paid player on the Lions, Matt Stafford was a childhood friend of Clayton Kershaw, baseball’s highest-paid pitcher.

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Jimmy Garoppolo, San Francisco 49ers: $137 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $48,700,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $9,740,000

Traded from the Patriots on Halloween in 2017, Garoppolo was “spooky” good over five starts for the Niners that year, prompting a big contract in the offseason.

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Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears: $141 Million

  • Position: Outside linebacker
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $60,000,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $10,000,000

Up until Sept. 1, 2018, Khalil Mack was the highest-paid player on the Raiders, but a trade to Chicago has him in a Bear uniform now.

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Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons: $150 Million

  • Position: Quarterback
  • Total Guaranteed at Signing: $94,500,000
  • Avg. Guarantee/Year: $18,900,000

Matt Ryan failed to bounce back from the devastating loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI in 2017, throwing just 20 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.

(Getty)

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Zimmerman’s style is still impacting NFL writing today

Zimmerman’s style was gruff, blunt, smart, funny and entertaining. He’d reference “the Flaming Redhead,” his wife Linda, and talk about wine. When Zimmerman got down to the business of football there was a gravitas to it, because he studied the game like a coach. His All-Pro teams, his Super Bowl prediction pieces and even his annual ranking of television announcers were all built on a foundation of writing about football in a matter-of-fact way, with his opinion always very easy to determine.

Zimmerman wasn’t writing about football for the last 10 years of his life. But it’s easy to still see his influence everywhere on the modern NFL writing landscape.

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Frank Schwabis a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at shutdown.corner@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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