Ever since the horrific knee injury to Teddy Bridgewater that has put a budding NFL career in doubt, those who make the franchise-altering decisions for the Minnesota Vikings have been forced to make some gigantic ones. Unfortunately for them, it can be argued the biggest decisions are yet to come.
When Bridgewater had to be rushed by ambulance from Winter Park when his knee collapsed in a non-contact injury, the flood of panic set in with the top brass of the organization.
The Vikings were coming off an 11-5 season in which they had finally dethroned the Green Bay Packers as NFC North champions and expectations heading into 2016 were of a return to the Super Bowl for the first time in 40 years. All that got put on hold when Bridgewater went down and, initially, the line of thinking is that the Vikings would scramble to find an available quarterback in the low-rent district of the available market.
Names like Nick Foles, Zach Mettenberger, Andy Murray, Brian Hoyer and Josh McCown were being thrown around. But the Vikings weren’t looking for journeymen or scrubs. They wanted somebody who could make an impact and keep the Vikings offense viable and potentially thriving.
They made their first big decision in orchestrating a trade with Philadelphia to acquire Sam Bradford. Not only was Bradford more talented than all of the names being surmised as Bridgewater replacements, the selling point to give up their 2017 first-round pick was that he was under contract for the next two seasons – something that has become increasingly important in the eight-plus months since. That would be the first decision in a line of dominoes that are midway from tumbling down with time.
Bradford played well given that his ever-changing offensive line had little to no continuity from one game to the next and was often a five-man sieve that allowed defenders to routinely hammer Bradford as he attempted to throw passes.
With the season over, the question became whether Bridgewater would be able to return in 2017. That question has yet to be answered.
The next decision the Vikings had to make was how to address the backup at the end of the season. If the team was confident Bridgewater would be fully recovered, there likely wouldn’t have been any more needed. Shaun Hill could move on with Bradford and Bridgewater battling it out for the starting job. If nothing else, there were be unprecedented competition and, if one was injured, it could be argued that there wouldn’t be a drop-off.
It would appear that the severity and longevity of Bridgewater’s injury made the next big decision for the Vikings – when free agency opened, the Vikings weighed the value of the market and signed veteran Case Keenum to serve as the No. 2 QB to currently sit behind Bradford on the depth chart.
The next big decision the team had to make came this past week. While they never have come right out and said it, the decision to decline the fifth-year option on Bridgewater spoke more than the cone of silence that has enveloped Winter Park since the Bridgewater injury.
Now the question surrounds the next big decision the Vikings have to make with their QB saga.
It’s whether to make the long-term investment in Bradford. That big decision has yet to be made and, in many ways, given the trade the Vikings made to acquire Bradford, it’s likely one that won’t be made any time soon.
Because they don’t really have to.
Bradford is under contract for 2017. As such, he is owed the salary he agreed to when he signed last spring with the Eagles.
He will honor his end of the bargain. If he succeeds, the Vikings would have the first shot at signing him to a long-term deal and move forward with him as the face of their offense.
If he has a great year and the team can’t agree to a long-term deal, the Vikings could use the franchise tag on him. Given the money that has been peeled off the books over the last four months, the organization can afford under the salary cap the Ground Zero option of putting a quarterback on the franchise docket.
Washington has swallowed hard two straight years to do that with a former fourth-round pick who hit free agency at just the right moment on the tectonic shift of the NFL and the value on mid-level quarterbacks. It’s possible. Not the ideal outcome, but it’s an option for the Vikings.
The other decision that could be made is to let his contract expire and move on. Nobody wants to see that potential because, if Bridgewater isn’t healthy - or willing to re-sign - the next enormous decision the Vikings would have to make is who is their starting quarterback or hot young prospect moving forward in 2018.
It’s hard to imagine it’s only been slightly more than eight months since the Vikings QB world got turned on its head.
Eight months from now, the Vikings will make arguably the biggest decision of them all. All that hangs in the balance is the short-to-long-term future of the most important position on the field for the franchise.