The 2023 NFL season still has one game remaining, but the end of the line has already come for a man that has some significance to the Minnesota Vikings and their fans.
The Detroit Lions’ loss in the NFC Championship Game brought with it the end of the career of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater had announced earlier in the year that the 2023 season would be his last in the NFL and that he was retiring to focus on becoming a school teacher.
Bridgewater is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, “what if” in the recent Vikings’ history. He was drafted by the Vikings with the final pick in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft when the Vikings traded back into Round 1 to select him. The original plan for the Vikings was to let him sit for a season, but he was thrust into service just three games into his rookie season after Matt Cassel broke his foot in New Orleans.
After missing the 2014 playoffs, the Vikings returned to the postseason with Bridgewater at the helm in 2015, putting up a 11-5 record in their final season at TCF Bank Stadium and falling to the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs after the infamous Blair Walsh missed field goal at the end of that game. It appeared that Bridgewater had turned a corner during the 2016 preseason, culminating with an outstanding performance in the first-ever game at U.S. Bank Stadium in a preseason contest against the San Diego Chargers. The Vikings and their young quarterback appeared to be on an upward trajectory.
And then, as the Vikings prepared for their preseason finale, the worst happened. Bridgewater suffered a significant non-contact leg injury while dropping back to pass and was rushed to a local trauma center. Word came out that Bridgewater had nearly lost his leg as a result of the injury and would end up missing significant time. That time would encompass the entire 2016 season as he recovered. Bridgewater was on the roster in 2017 but saw action in just one game that season. . .though that appearance did provide us with a memorable moment.
When the team re-evaluated the quarterback position after the 2017 season concluded, they decided that Bridgewater would no longer be a part of their plans, opting to let him hit free agency. He went on to play for six different teams after that, as his NFL career took him to the New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, and lastly to the Detroit Lions. Bridgewater’s last start came with Miami in 2022, and he only appeared in one game for Detroit, taking a couple of kneeldowns in their victory over Carolina in October.
The Bridgewater injury significantly altered the direction of the Vikings’ franchise. It led to them making a panicked trade for veteran Sam Bradford ahead of the 2016 season opener and, ultimately, likely led to them signing Kirk Cousins ahead of the 2018 season after they decided they didn’t like Bradford, Bridgewater, or Case Keenum as their long-term answer at the quarterback position.
I’m not going to pretend that I know whether or not Teddy Bridgewater would have developed into the franchise-level quarterback that the Vikings envisioned him as when they drafted him in 2014. I do know that a lot of us felt pretty darn good about him being the future of the team in the offseason leading up to his injury and it certainly appeared that he was getting ready to truly break out. He had also been incredibly embraced by the fan base, because it appeared that, after years of band-aids and short-term fixes at the quarterback position, the team had finally found a guy that they could build around for a decade or more. Unfortunately, like so many other things in Minnesota Vikings history. . .through no fault of Teddy Bridgewater’s. . .it’s just another discussion about what could have been if things had gone differently.
Congratulations to Teddy Bridgewater on his retirement after a decade in the National Football League, and here’s hoping that he finds success and happiness in the next stage of his life as well.