On the growing and all too familiar uncertainty surrounding the Minnesota Vikings

As Sam Bradford continues to struggle with getting healthy following a dominant week one performance, the Minnesota Vikings, hosts of Super Bowl LII, find themselves fighting to stay relevant in one of the NFL’s more unforgiving divisions.

Their collective ability to come out on top will depend on whether their offence can supplement one of the league’s top defensive units.

An offence that is presently facing a impending moment of truth decision at its most critical position.


 

This was not how the Minnesota Vikings’ season was supposed to unfold…

A sequence of events triggered more than a year ago — back in August when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome knee injury — now sees the Vikings staring at a daunting fork in the road.

It was a routine drop-back during practice, one Bridgewater has executed flawlessly time and time again.

This one was different.

He went down. Not from a tackle. There was no contact, he wasn’t even running. Just an innocent step back that sent Teddy collapsing to the turf, his team’s hopes figuratively along with him.

Practice was over — football was now secondary to the well-being of their promising quarterback, and more importantly friend and teammate as he writhed in audible agony on the practice field.

Teddy Bridgewaters career was only 29 games old and many thought it may already be over…rushed away in an ambulance, the Vikings season appeared on life-support and with a suddenly grim outlook — two weeks out from kicking-off the 2016-2017 regular season.

This compelled GM Rick Spielman to pay a steep price — a 2017 first-round pick along with a 4th round pick that, based on certain conditions had the potential to become a 3rd round selection in 2017 — to acquire Sam Bradford (!?) from the Philadelphia Eagles.

 

(Pardon my skepticism — something about involving Sam Bradford in a plan to quell concerns stemming from a devastating knee injury seems off, no?)

 

Still reeling from Bridgewaters injury and uncertain future, the Vikings surprisingly stormed out to a 5-0 record, vaulting into the Class of the League discussion.

But history would indicate the Viking way often leads to “ringless” outcomes — 0-4 in Super Bowls. And don’t talk to them about Brett Favre being a gun-slinger or the “automatic” right leg of Gary “One Bar” Anderson.

Their fate quickly turned as a result of injuries on the offensive line, to then tailback Adrian Peterson, and an overall dip in performance across the board.

They ended the season 8-8, despite Bradford having a career year, highlighted by his 71.6 completion percentage. That broke the previous league record set by Drew Brees in 2011 (71.2) — Anybody that wants to know my feeling on completion percentage as an indicator of effectiveness, read this. He (Kevin Clark) breaks it down rather nicely.

Fast-forward to present day and the situation behind centre is still very much in flux…

Filling in admirably for the once again hobbled Bradford has been Case Keenum, who in 4 games and 3 starts has thrown 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions — with a QB rating of 97.6 in those three contests. When Bradford was unable to answer the bell for his team’s week 2 game against Pittsburgh, Keenum began his string of three consecutive starts, going 1-2.

Bradford returned on Monday for a primetime outing — after missing multiple weeks with what is being called a bone bruise in the knee (I’m convinced Bridgewater plays before Bradford does again) — but was replaced to start the second half. Clearly still feeling some serious discomfort in his injured knee, Zimmer opted to start Keenum in the 3rd quarter, casting further uncertainty around Bradford’s status moving forward.

In traditional Mike Zimmer fashion, he refused to expand on Bradford’s future availability instead focusing on his backup quarterbacks performance and overall professional approach.

“Pretty good, 17 out of 21. Like all our guys, there’s good things and things he can improve on…I think the team believes when [Keenum] comes in he’s going to play well and that’s the most important thing.” explained Zimmer following his team’s 20-17 victory over the Bears on Monday Night Football.

Not to be lost in all of this is the reality that Case Keenum profiles more as an upper-tier backup quarterback than a legitimate starter. He’s never thrown for more than 9 touchdowns in a single-season and boasts a career record of 10-17 in 30 NFL games.

Compounding the issues on offence is the season-ending knee injury to prized rookie running back Dalvin Cook, who had quickly become the Vikings’ most dangerous offensive threat and helped offset the ebbs and flows associated with the Vikings passing attack. Latavius Murray and Jerrick McKinnon are both solid, but neither runs with the same “spice” as Chef Cook.

 

(Enter Teddy Bridgewater…?)

 

Joining an ailing Bradford — who’s career is now seemingly on ice as thin and fragile as his surgically repaired ACL — along with He’s on the Case Keenum is the man who was tabbed as the future of Viking football before either one of them suited up in purple: Teddy Bridgewater.

Following an intense rehab from an injury many thought was career threatening, Teddy Bridgewater is scheduled to visit his surgeon early next week. If all goes well, he will get the green light to resume practicing.

It’s an interesting position for the organization. On one hand, all signs point to their prized 2014 first-round draft pick at quarterback having made an improbable recovery…the other however involves an added variable to an already complicated equation.

 

“I have belief that he will but he hasn’t been on the field yet so it’s hard to say”

— Head Coach Mike Zimmer when asked about the rumoured return of Teddy Bridgewater  

 

Bridgewater will be eligible to come off the PUP list after week 6. From there, the team has 5 weeks to deem him practice ready. If he returns to practice, that triggers a 3-week period during which time they need to either activate him or place him on season-ending IR.

Got it? No? Me neither. Maybe read it again?

Adding further intrigue are the contract situations of the three quarterbacks — all of them are in the final year of their respective deals (Keenum is in the one and only year of his deal, signed this off-season).

For Bridgewater, who is still on his rookie-scale contract, if he is placed on IR and not activated, his contract would roll over to next season, keeping him on the Viking’s roster for an additional year (and the only current Vikings QB under contract past this season).

You’d have to think that caveat will factor into the approaching decision regarding his availability for the remainder of this season.

The Vikings have always been high on the 2014 first-rounder despite pedestrian numbers that are cautiously lined with positivity and buoyed by a marginally appetizing list of excuses  — what more could have been expected behind THOSE offensive lines!?

Deep throw accuracy has always been a concern with the Louisville product. Through 29 games, Bridgewater has only managed to complete 79 passes of 20+ yards, and 13 of 40 or more. Those numbers are equally indicative of an already mentioned porous O-line as they are of any perceived deep ball inadequacies on the part of Bridgewater.

Improved protection up front would certainly help with Bridgewater’s deep ball development. But he’s also an oppressed member the oft-scrutinized too short to play quarterback club.

At 6’2″, Bridgewater is considered undersized though I find the importance put on quarterback height to be grossly overstated — Drew Brees (6’0″), Aaron Rodgers (6’2″), and Russell Wilson (5’11”) are a few examples of those who succeeded despite their non-conformance to prescribed vitals that suggest almost unequivocally that anything under 6’4″ simply won’t do.

Like Bridgewater (if activated) and the other two Vikings’ quarterbacks, Brees is set to hit the 2018 UFA market. A clause in Brees’ contract prevents him from being slapped with the franchise tag — somebody got lawyered in that contract negotiation.

Picturing a scenario involving Bree’s becoming a Viking at age 39 seems like a reboot of the Favre years — though I still feel Brees’ has several years left in the tank, provided he gets competent play upfront of which the present-day Vikings seem fully capable of providing.

Throw in a dynamic receiving core featuring Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, a big athletic tight-end in Kyle Rudolph, along with a fully healthy Dalvin Cook, and 2-3 years of Drew Brees’ could produce some magic, all while affording the team a reasonable window of opportunity to develop the next franchise QB — Imagine the NFC North with Rodgers, Stafford, and Brees?!

The only other worthwhile member of the 2018 QB UFA class is Kirk “YOU LIKE THAT?!” Cousins.   

Cousins is coming off his second consecutive franchise tag, paying him ~23.9 million for his services this season. A third one seems highly unlikely especially when you consider it carries an estimated price tag of $34.5 million.

…Or they could smack what is known as the “transition” tag on him, reducing the applicable contract value to $28.7 million but allows other teams to sign Cousins to offer sheets, all of which are subject to be matched by the Redskins.

On pace for a third straight 4,000 yard season, Cousins figures to be in high demand in a quarterback starved league. Among the suitors could be Rick Spielman and the Vikings.

In addition to his gaudy numbers, Cousins is durable having started every Redskins game since week 1 of the 2015 season, posting an overall QB rating of 99.7 over that span. He sits 5th amongst active quarterbacks in career QB rating — trailing only the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees.

Quality company, would you not agree?

 

SIDEBAR

If you didn’t believe me when I said only other member, see for yourself (and NO, I’m not willing to *pay* Jimmy Garoppolo.

 

(Merely sitting next to future Hall of Famers in meetings doesn’t always accurately predict future success)

 

Didn’t Brock Osweiler already prove that? Matt Flynn’s another. Both also aid in my height argument as well.

 

GM’s constantly get burned by these types of narratives in their search for the game’s most prized positional jewel.

 

Despite his brave and calm demeanour with the media, Mike Zimmer has be somewhat anxious when considering who will be his hopefully day-in and day-out quarterback this season and beyond.

“It’s not difficult. We just go each day,”quipped Zimmer at a recent press conference.

I respect the hard-nosed next man up approach.

It is preached and an oddly sad but accepted reality across other position groups — think of all the devastating injuries we see in today’s game.

But stability at the quarterback position is vital in creating success, especially in the long-term. Bridgewater’s return is encouraging, but he’ll have to show he can hold up health-wise before the Vikings — or for that matter, any team — will entertain the prospect of a contract containing any semblance of term.

He’s got company in that boat in the form of Sam Bradford — I’d hold off buying any purple 5, 7, or 8 jerseys.

Vikings fans should get a look at a rehabbed Teddy Bridgewater this season.

How he will fair is anybody’s guess. Regardless of that fact, seeing him back on the field of play will be a warm your heart moment in sport — For Teddy, it could be a final chance to prove he’s still capable of captaining the ship in Minnesota.

It may be a brand new cast of characters in the Vikings’ QB room come next season. Everything else seems primed and ready for a Super Bowl run.

You like that!? — Mike Zimmer, Rick Spielman, and many others just might.

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