When you lose your starting QB for the season with a severe knee injury at the end of August, it’s not a good situation.
And when you trade a first-round draft pick for a starting QB that went on to have the best season of his career, and is currently the highest rated QB in the NFL, but now he can’t play either with a knee injury, that’s not a good situation.
It is a good situation though when your backup QB, after having a full week of practice, comes in and has the best game of his career, leading to the most productive offensive game passing since Brett Favre was quarterback.
The fact that he’s only on a one-year deal and probably isn’t content to be a backup, isn’t a good situation.
Oh, and none of the three QBs in question is currently under contract beyond this season. That’s not a good situation either.
And lastly, because two of the three QBs in question have what looks to be on-going durability concerns, a fourth QB was acquired, a highly coveted developmental QB, and is now a member of the active roster, leaving a situation where potentially four QBs could be on the active roster in a month’s time. That’s not a good situation either.
So, What To Do?
Just to recap the above situation, the Vikings currently have:
- A one-time, and potentially future, franchise QB who led the league in passing accuracy his last season prior to suffering a severe knee injury that will likely be an on-going durability issue, in the name of Teddy Bridgewater.
- A current potential franchise QB who also led the league in passing accuracy his last season, coming off his best season as the 6th highest rated passer in the league, and currently the highest rated passer in the NFL, but also with a touchy knee injury situation that leaves him day-to-day in terms of availability, and will also be an on-going durability concern, in the name of Sam Bradford.
- A possible starting QB coming off the best game of his career, who looked good in pre-season as well, does not have injury issues that are a durability concern at this point, and who knows, could thrive in the Vikings offense too- in the name of Case Keenum.
- Kyle Sloter, a developmental QB a lot of other teams wanted, but the Vikings out-bid them, who looked good in pre-season but doesn’t have much experience playing QB, nor any doing so in the NFL, but is currently a member of the active roster.
At some point in the next month or so, Teddy Bridgewater may be ready to come off the PUP list, which would necessitate either keeping 4 QBs on the roster, and thereby leaving the team short elsewhere, or letting one go, presumably Kyle Sloter, and having to recruit another 3rd string QB next year, who likely won’t be as good and also likely a year behind Sloter developmentally.
There are also real questions about Sam Bradford’s on-going durability, and also what Teddy’s ability will be when he comes back, in addition to his also having on-going an durability concern, which makes signing either to a long-term deal somewhat problematic. Bradford will likely command north of $20 million/year for sure, and probably more like $25 million. Bridgewater may come cheaper, as he has not been as prolific a passer, and also a performance risk factor as he hasn’t played in two years.
Keenum, age 29, makes a lot of sense as a backup, and I bet Spielman now wishes he’d signed him for a longer term deal, if Keenum had been willing. But judging from his press conference Monday, he doesn’t seem content to be a backup, and is probably looking to parlay his good performance into another chance as a starter. In any case (pun intended), re-signing Keenum may not come nearly as cheap as his current $1.9m salary.
Keenum played for 5 seasons at Houston in college, in a spread offense, and basically owns most college passing records, having passed for 19,217 yards and 155 TDs in that span. He went undrafted because he played in a spread and was only 6’1” coming out in 2012. But Keenum has a certain amount in common with former #1 overall pick Sam Bradford, in that they both were very successful in college, only to have had the misfortune to be acquired by the Rams. In Keenum’s case, he was picked up initially by the Texans, and spent some time on the practice squad before moving up and getting a his first start there. He had some good games, but ultimately was not seen as the QBOTF (he went 0-8 as a starter) and eventually was let go and picked up by the Rams. He had some occasional outstanding games with the Rams as well, but again was not seen as the QBOTF, and ultimately was let go in favor of Jared Goff.
One could make the case that Keenum’s inconsistency with both the Texans and Rams was the result of being on bad offensive teams with bad QB coaching. He’s also a good fit in Pat Shurmur’s offense. He doesn’t have the accuracy of Bradford or Bridgewater, and there is uncertainty about how good or consistent he can be, but the players like how he is in the huddle, and he has looked good when given the prep time in practice. Making a push to extend his contract with the Vikings seems like a good move. Allowing him to compete for a starting job isn’t such a bad thing, and if he falls short, he looks like as capable a backup as realistically, you’re likely to get.
At this point, Bradford, who turns 30 in November, is the best proven quarterback on the Vikings roster. He’s played well over the 16 games since he’s been a Viking. We don’t know how Teddy Bridgewater will be able to perform once he’s off the PUP list. We do know, based on past performance, that both are very accurate passers, but Bradford is a little more so with deeper throws. We also know Bradford is able to get the ball out sooner than Bridgewater, and has more experience reading defenses and coverages. But Bradford is also 5 years older than Bridgewater, and isn’t the play-maker Bridgewater was. Nevertheless, Bradford gives the Vikings the best chance to win now, and until another QB on the roster proves otherwise, for the foreseeable future. As such, the Vikings can’t afford to let him go. It’s premature to sign him to a lucrative extension- he needs to win the job next year and show durability by coming back and finishing the season in the next week or two- but it still makes sense to keep him on board with the Vikings into next year. What’s the best way to do so? Franchise tag.
Using a non-exclusive franchise tag on Bradford would give him a $21.6m salary next season by my calculation, but allow Bradford to negotiate with other teams. The Vikings would have the opportunity to match any offers, and if they chose not to do so, the Vikings would get two first-round draft picks from the team that acquired Bradford. The Vikings could also use an exclusive franchise tag on Bradford, that would prevent him from negotiating with other teams, but his salary would be the top 5 average QB salary as of April, 2018- which currently looks to be around $24m. Given all that, and that the Vikings may have other viable options on the roster, a non-exclusive franchise tag makes more sense.
If Teddy Bridgewater comes off the PUP list week 7, as is being suggested, his contract can be tolled, meaning extended another season at current salary. The Vikings can and should do this. There is some speculation that the NFLPA may challenge this, but the language looks pretty clear, and I would be very surprised if the Vikings lost that challenge. In any case, I suspect the Vikings will not be in a hurry to get Bridgewater off the PUP list, unless Bradford is not able to play for the rest of the season, which seems unlikely at this point. The reason is simple: having Bridgewater occupy a roster spot as essentially a 3rd string QB unlikely to play doesn’t help the team this season.
One possibility that makes sense is this: after six weeks on the PUP list, the Vikings have a 5-week window to have Bridgewater begin practicing with the team. Once he does so, the Vikings have a 21-day window to put him on the active roster. The Vikings may at some point in the five-week window allow Bridgewater to practice with the team, and do so for up to 21 days, to get a feel for how ready he is to actually play in a real game. If he’s not completely ready physically, then they can return him to the PUP list for the rest of the season. If he looks really good, and his knee holds up fine, they can bite the bullet and make room for him on the active roster. But if he needs more time on the PUP list, that’s fine too.
But beyond how to manage Teddy’s situation this year, when he isn’t likely to play, there is the question of next year too.
And that really boils down to how well he looks in the off-season and pre-season next year.
I’m guessing he won’t be as mobile as he once was, or at least he’ll likely be more cautious in that regard. I’m guessing also that he’ll need playing time to get back to his old form. But the question remains at what level he will be able to play at once he returns to action. Having him show what level that is next season is the only way to determine his future with the Vikings. He could return as the Vikings franchise quarterback. He could be traded. He could be a backup. He could be let go. But that decision is for next year, not this one.
The Vikings spent a lot in terms of both money and now a roster spot to acquire and keep this promising project QB, with a good pre-season tape with Denver. Sloter is 6’4”, 215lbs, but had only two years experience playing QB at Northern Colorado. From his tape, he looks to have the poise to play in the NFL, and the arm, looked pretty good especially in delivering play-action slant routes, but also could use a little more pocket awareness, as he took a couple sacks in or near the end-zone. Overall though he seems like a QB worth keeping and developing as a third-string. But what ultimately happens with Sloter could depend on Bridgewater’s roster status. Having 4 QBs on the active roster means cutting elsewhere, which would leave the Vikings short at another position. If the Vikings can finagle a way to keep Sloter on the team this season, they could be deeper at QB going into next season than any team in the league.
Despite the injury misfortunes the Vikings have suffered at QB the past two years, they are loaded with talent at the position. But the injury status and durability concerns with Bradford and Bridgewater are real, and don’t argue for anything definite for either of them, except to keep them and allow them to compete next year.
Keenum has potential too, and extending him as the only viable starter without an injury/durability concern makes sense. The question is whether he’d sign an extension, or look to find the best opportunity to start next season. Perhaps he could be induced to re-sign with the Vikings, figuring that between Bradford and Bridgewater’s knee issues, he’ll get his chance sooner or later. What if he repeats his performance against the Buccaneers this week against Detroit? Zimmer says Bradford is the QB when he’s ready, but if that isn’t for a few weeks and Keenum makes the most of that opportunity, then what?
From the team perspective it doesn’t matter who’s playing QB as long as they’re playing well. But Rick Spielman and the Vikings front office need to have a plan to keep the talent the Vikings have at quarterback this season, which could easily turn into a lot of draft or trade currency down the road, in addition to continuing to have quality depth at the most important position in professional sports.
If you had to sign one QB currently on the Vikings roster to a new five-year contract, which one would it be?
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