As much faith as the Vikings had in Teddy Bridgewater two years ago, it didn’t take long to see there was a flaw in their approach to the quarterback position.
Bridgewater, the final pick of the first round in 2014, was expected to be the Vikings’ quarterback for many years to come but behind him the team had veteran Shaun Hill, undrafted 2015 free agent Taylor Heinicke and undrafted 2016 rooie free agent Joel Stave.
Hill was 36 at the time, so he was going to be nothing more than a mentor to Bridgewater. When Heinicke showed up at training camp in Mankato wearing a walking because he had severed a tendon in his left foot, it was clear that if anything happened to Bridgewater the Vikings would be in trouble.
Of course, nobody could have predicted that Bridgewater would suffer a catastrophic injury to his left knee just before the season. That forced the Vikings to trade a first-round pick to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford, who started the final 15 games after Hill handled the opener at Tennessee. The Vikings got off to a 5-0 start before missing the playoffs by dropping eight of their final 11.
General manager Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer went into last season far more prepared at quarterback, having signed veteran journeyman Case Keenum to a one-year, $2 million contract to serve as Bradford’s backup.
That moved turned out to be a stroke of genius as Bradford was essentially lost for the season because of a bum knee following a Week 1 victory over the Saints. Keenum then made a run for MVP in helping lead the Vikings to a 13-3 finish and the NFC title game
Bridgewater, who spent the season recovering from a knee injury, and Kyle Sloter, who was signed by the Vikings after being waived by Denver near the end of training camp, also were on the roster.
Bradford, Keenum and Bridgewater are now gone — Bradford is in Arizona, Keenum in Denver and Bridgewater with the Jets — but Spielman again demonstrated that he learned a valuable lesson in 2016.
The Vikings signed veteran free-agent Kirk Cousins to a three-year, $84 million guaranteed contract in March. But the fact they appear to have a durable QB — Cousins hasn’t missed a start in the past three seasons — doesn’t mean Spielman decided to go with an inexperienced or over-the-hill backup.
Trevor Siemian, who started 24 games the past two seasons in Denver, came to the Vikings in a March trade that sent a 2019 fifth-round pick to the Broncos and brought a 2018 seventh-round pick to Minnesota. Siemian had 30 touchdown passes, 24 interceptions and a 59.3 completion percentage the past two years. While the 26-year-old won’t be going to a Pro Bowl anytime soon, he has the ability to keep an offense afloat if he has to start a few games in place of Cousins.
The Vikings’ quarterback depth chart doesn’t end there.
Spielman was aggressive last season when Denver tried to sneak Sloter onto its practice squad. Sloter said he got eight calls from teams interested in signing him but Spielman was the first to call and also made the last call to make sure Sloter knew he was wanted in Minnesota. Sloter, who had started only nine games at quarterback during his collegiate career, also was impressed that the Vikings general manager, and not someone else, called him direct.
It didn’t hurt that the Vikings were willing to pay Sloter $20,000 per week to be on their practice squad and the team quickly elevated him to the active roster after Bradford was injured. Sloter was active for six games.
Sloter was impressive in the Vikings’ preseason victory over Denver on Saturday, completing 9-of-11 passes for 69 yards with a 9-yard touchdown pass and 14-yard touchdown scramble during his stint in the second half. This came after Cousins looked sharp on the opening drive, completing 4-of-4 passes for 42 yard and a touchdown, and Siemian hit on 11-of-17 passes for 165 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
These stats might have come in a meaningless game, but they served as a reminder that for the second consecutive season the Vikings have a plan at quarterback that goes beyond the starter. It’s clear the lesson of 2016 hasn’t been forgotten.