The Vikings are going to be in trouble if we have to talk about Teddy Bridgewater playing this season.
That was my feeling throughout training camp whenever the Vikings’ injured quarterback was mentioned. This wasn’t meant as a dig at Bridgewater, but rather an acknowledgement of the fact that Sam Bradford was going to be the Vikings’ starting quarterback and the hope had to be that he would remain in that role for all 16 games.
Bradford had started 15 games in 2016, only missing the opener because he had been acquired shortly before it, and stability was thought to be a key to the Vikings’ potential success. Plus, Bradford finally had a chance to prove that he could be the key piece to an offense that was built around him.
Bradford did not disappoint in the regular-season opener against New Orleans, completing 27 of 32 passes for 346 yards with three touchdowns and an outstanding 143.0 passer rating in a 29-19 Monday night victory. It probably was Bradford’s best performance in eight NFL seasons.
This was exactly what the Vikings wanted to see. And then, a day later, Bradford showed up at Winter Park with his twice-surgically repaired left knee aching and he hasn’t played since.
The Vikings will enter Monday night’s game in Chicago with a 2-2 record, with backup Case Keenum having started the past three games, and with coach Mike Zimmer having told the ESPN announcing crew that he “anticipates” Bradford will be the starter against the Bears.
That’s good news for the Vikings but this situation could soon become even more interesting. That’s because Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported on Sunday that Bridgewater is expected to be activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list after Week 6. Bridgewater missed all of last season after suffering a gruesome injury to his left knee (torn ACL, dislocation and more) in a non-contact drill during practice just before the regular season began.
If Bradford had played in all four games this season, Bridgewater’s return would not be as interesting. But the fact his knee is bothering him again changes everything.
Bradford is playing in the last season of his contract and there has to be concern at Winter Park that signing the soon-to-be 30-year-old to an extension would be a big risk. The Vikings haven’t shared much information about what’s wrong with Bradford’s knee, but the fact that he’s twice torn the ACL in it and now it’s bothering him again is reason to worry.
Bradford remains a bit of an unknown, but considering how hard it is to find quality quarterbacks in this league it’s not a stretch to believe that someone is going to make him the type of lucrative offer that the Vikings might find to be too rich for them.
So the question becomes do you attempt to see if Bridgewater is the future? It’s far from ideal, and you have no real idea when he will be ready to go, but if the Vikings feel there is a good chance they will let Bradford walk, they likely will want to get a look at Bridgewater.
Just because Bridgewater can be activated after Week 6 doesn’t mean he will be ready anytime soon. The Vikings will play host to the Packers in Week 6 and Baltimore in Week 7, before going overseas to face Cleveland before their bye.
The Vikings will have a three-week period for Bridgewater to practice before they have to decide whether to activate him or shut him down for the remainder of the season. The latter scenario is unlikely to happen, so it won’t be surprising if Bridgewater is back on the 53-man roster in the second half of the season.
The Vikings did not pick up the fifth-year option on Bridgwater’s rookie deal last spring, although there has been speculation they could attempt to toll his contract since he will have been on the PUP for the opening six weeks. The NFL’s labor agreement gives them that right, although the Bridgewater camp almost certainly would file a grievance.
Bradford’s knee issue, however, could mean the Vikings will want to take a look at Bridgewater in the second half to attempt to make a decision on whether he has recovered enough to be the guy going forward. In that scenario, the Vikings would not only have no interesting in tolling Bridgewater’s contract, they would be looking at giving him an extension.
The one thing the Vikings know right now is that Case Keenum is not the answer and that they aren’t going to be a threat to make a postseason run if the veteran has to fill in for an extended period.
Bradford appears to have the ability to lead a team into the playoffs, but his aching knee is now an issue. Bridgewater’s knee injury is just as big of concern, but the Vikings are going to have no idea what they have with him unless they get him back in.
Can they afford to do that this season?
The real question, now that Bradford’s knee also is worrisome, is can they afford not to do that?