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Two years later, a look back on the day that changed Vikings history forever

While we try to avoid playing the “what-if” game

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Most of us probably remember where we were when either an alert flashed across our phone or we checked Twitter and saw the news: Teddy Bridgewater had gone down with a serious knee injury.

The news only got worse and worse as people started to comprehend the severity of the injury. And then came the Mike Zimmer press conference, where the visibly emotional coach recalled his wife’s passing when talking about the situation. It was an awful day for the Vikings community.

On the field, the team had been gearing up for a Super Bowl run. Remember, this was a team that had come within seconds of winning a playoff game a year before (we won’t discuss why that didn’t happen). The backup quarterback was Shaun Hill.

So Rick Spielman went out and made a blockbuster trade, sending a first round pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford. The Eagles not only got a first round pick for a quarterback whose days in Philly were numbered, but they also cleared the way to give their starting job to rookie Carson Wentz. Had he not started in 2016, it’s very possible he wouldn’t have developed into an MVP candidate who helped the Eagles win the Super Bowl in the 2017 season.

Meanwhile, in the first regular season game at U.S. Bank Stadium, Bradford looked amazing, outplaying Aaron Rodgers en route to a Vikings win. The Vikings looked like the league’s best team for five weeks, until injuries derailed the season and ultimately caused them to miss the playoffs. They then didn’t have a first round pick.

Shaun Hill was done, and the Vikings needed a new backup quarterback. There are two ways to look at what happened:

  1. Spielman knew he had to pay more attention to the position after the Bridgewater injury, so he went out and signed a guy with starting experience who’d shown potential in spots and had been an all-time great college quarterback.
  2. Spielman signed a journeyman backup who’d been given numerous chances and had never played well enough to keep a starting spot for a sustained period of time.

Hello, Case Keenum.

Nobody paid much attention to the signing. After all, Bradford was the starter, and Bridgewater was expected back at some point. Keenum wasn’t even a lock to make the roster.

But then Bridgewater started the season on the PUP list and Bradford got injured after another incredible prime-time performance to open the season. So Keenum was the starter, and it looked like the Vikings were doomed.

We all know what happened next.

But because Keenum hadn’t played at a high level for multiple seasons, the Vikings were able to go in a different direction. And because Bridgewater hadn’t started a game since January 2016, the Vikings were able to go in a different direction. So Kirk Cousins, the top quarterback on the market, headed to the Vikings. It was probably the biggest free-agent signing in Minnesota since Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed with the Wild in 2012 (feel free to debate this one).

Both Keenum and Bradford will likely start the season as starting quarterbacks. Bridgewater was traded to the Saints yesterday, in a move that might set him up to be Drew Brees’ eventual successor. I really hope he gets another chance to be a starting quarterback. Here’s Ted’s “what if” on the whole situation, if you want to go down that road again.

Think for a second, though, about how much everything has changed in these two years, and how it all happened because of one ill-fated dropback. And to end, here’s Zimmer on Bridgewater, right after he was drafted.

“I said, ‘How’s your heart?’” Zimmer recalled. “He said, ‘Well, they said it was too big.’”