When we last took a look at the futures of Minnesota Vikings quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Teddy Bridgewater, it was early in the 2017 season and things looked quite different. At the time, we called it perhaps the most fascinating QB situation in the NFL.
Things have become a bit more clear now. And it's far easier to see how things might end up there, although we still have unanswered questions.
First, the clarity: Bradford, who turned 30 on Wednesday, was placed on injured reserve that same day, ending his season. His Vikings career also very much could be over, given that he's a 2018 free agent and that the Vikings suddenly have three other quarterbacks they might choose to go forth with. In addition to starter Case Keenum, the Vikings also have intriguing but unproven undrafted rookie Kyle Sloter under their control.
Keenum has done an admirable job as the starter since taking over for Bradford and reportedly will remain in that spot until further notice. But the return of Bridgewater to the active roster — he took Bradford's spot — has presented a fascinating situation and perhaps conundrum for where the Vikings go at quarterback.
There are both short- and long-term ramifications to this situation, so the fascination is clearly not gone yet.
Keenum has earned the right to continue starting, we've been told, and there's also no rush to get Bridgewater back onto the field any time soon. Yes, he has passed all the medical tests the team has thrown at him to date, and teammates have been impressed with how he has looked.
However, as one team source reminded us, there also was a procedural element to Bridgewater being activated when he was. Had the Vikings not added him to the roster on Wednesday, he would have been unable to play at all for the remainder of the season. Bridgewater had returned to practice three weeks prior, which started the clock on him based on the rules of returning from the PUP (physically unable to perform) list.
So just because he can in theory play now doesn't mean that Bridgewater will be out on the field for live action anytime soon. The Vikings are 6-2 and in the pole position for the NFC North crown. Keenum has not been able to stretch the field effectively often since the Week 2 win over the Buccaneers but he has avoided sacks (five this season, and one in his past four games) and turnovers (three INTs and zero fumbles in six starts).
Bridgewater last appeared in a regular-season game almost two years ago. His work with the scout team the past few weeks has been impressive — pretty much every member of the Vikings who has been asked about this has said as much. But it's important for the Vikings to weigh giving him enough practice time with also needing to take a look at him before the end of the season.
Why is that last point important? Well, like Bradford, Bridgewater has a contract that expires at season's end. The team has a lot invested in him and in a perfect world he'd be their long-term starting quarterback. Although the Vikings previously declined his fifth-year rookie option that would have locked him into a salary north of $12 million, they did that to protect themselves against him not being able to recover from what was a devastating knee injury.
And yet had Bridgewater not returned to the roster, his contract would have tolled a year and locked him in at a much lower figure — a situation that could have gotten ugly. Now that he's back, the Vikings must see enough of Bridgewater this season to make a determination about him as their future starter with free agency looming.
Could he start meaningful games down the stretch? It's not out of the question. Keenum could struggle or the Vikings could lose games, which might prompt a switch. Or the they could be in a position where they could win the NFC North but cannot overtake the Philadelphia Eagles for the top slot in the NFC playoffs. That might allow them to give Bridgewater a start or two down the stretch.
But it would be hard to imagine the Vikings going to Bridgewater and not sticking with him. This is the delicate balancing act GM Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer are facing. The only likely scenario where that might happen is if the Vikings are locked into a playoff spot — or out of the postseason entirely — entering Week 17 and give Bridgewater a start against the Chicago Bears on New Year's Eve.
Interestingly, Sloter is the only QB the Vikings have under contract for 2018. But all options for next season remain open, we've been told. The one that's least likely to happen, we suspect, is Bradford returning; it's very possible that Bridgewater could show enough in practice and games to earn a short-term contract next season somewhere in the Andy Dalton-Tyrod Taylor neighborhood of $15 million or more.
There's an excellent chance we will see Bridgewater return to the field, and that's excellent news for the Vikings. But his future and that of the Vikings still very much remains up in the air over the coming months. Even with a few things answered, it's still quite the fascinating situation.