EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn -- Teddy Bridgewater will reach another milestone in his recovery from a horrific knee injury on Wednesday. The Minnesota Vikings are expected to take the quarterback off the PUP list and move him to the 53-man roster for the rest of the season, ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported.
Since Bridgewater's return to practice three weeks ago, the word from the Vikings -- from owner Mark Wilf to coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman to Bridgewater’s teammates -- is how well he has progressed without any setbacks.
Bridgewater’s doctor and the Vikings medical staff have kept a close eye on his mobility and mechanics. They need to feel confident that his surgically repaired left knee will be able to hold up in a game when defenses aren’t holding back.
All indications say they do.
It has been 22 months since Bridgewater appeared in a non-preseason game. The Vikings are carefully checking every box in the process of bringing back their Pro Bowl quarterback and are more concerned with doing so at the right pace and not rushing him back into his role at the helm of the offense.
That means that for the time being, Case Keenum will continue as the starting quarterback. But more on that in a bit.
To create room for Bridgewater on the 53-man, Minnesota has to make a roster move. The first question the Vikings have to answer is whether they want to keep four quarterbacks on the active roster or go down to three.
The Vikings cannot say with certainty that Bradford will be healthy enough to play again this season. Among all four quarterbacks, his status is the most uncertain.
They could move Sam Bradford to injured reserve, which would end his season. The knee injury Bradford sustained in Week 1 has lingered all season and kept him inactive for all but 1.5 games. Zimmer had expected that it would keep his starting quarterback out for only a week. Bradford said doctors gave him the hope that the injury would eventually go away and stop causing him issues.
Another way to open up a roster spot is to get rid of rookie Kyle Sloter, who has yet to play in a game. Minnesota fought hard to sign Sloter to the practice squad after the preseason. At this point in the season, every player cut from a roster goes on waivers. The chances that the Vikings are able to move Sloter through waivers and back onto the practice squad are slim; there are a lot of quarterback-needy teams right now that would jump at the chance to claim him to bolster depth.
A third (yet less realistic) option is to cut Mack Brown, whom the Vikings signed last week. The former Redskins running back obviously plays an important role leading up to the game against his former team, but he could be cut to make space for Bridgewater. Spielman did, however, hint at the lack of depth at running back, with Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon giving him some pause before the trade deadline. They might not be so quick to release the player they just added to fix that.
Once one of those moves (or another) is made, Bridgewater will be an active member of the Vikings. What’s expected of him? Given how well he has run the scout team in practice, Minnesota has to figure out how to increase his workload so can be prepared to play in a game.
For now, maybe he starts out as a backup to Keenum until he’s up to speed or if Keenum falls short in this stretch of tough road games.
Outside of possible health concerns of bringing Bridgewater back too soon or disturbing the chemistry Keenum has built, there are reasons it doesn’t make sense to start Bridgewater in Week 10.
Take a look at how the 49ers are handling their quarterback situation. Kyle Shanahan chose not to throw Jimmy Garoppolo into the mix at Arizona in Week 9. The difference between Garappolo's and Bridgewater’s positions is that the former Patriots backup would have had fewer than six days to learn a new offense, while Bridgewater knows Pat Shurmur’s system. The similarity is the reality that both of these players could be their team’s franchise quarterbacks in 2018 and beyond. You don’t rush the process for someone you want to succeed in the long run by fulfilling a short-term need.
Although Bridgewater starting won’t happen for a bit, the Vikings need to see him play at some point this season to know if they want to sign him when he becomes a free agent in 2018. Minnesota declined the fifth-year option of Bridgewater's rookie contract back in the offseason because it would have come with a guaranteed eight-figure salary for injury. If the team deemed him unable to play this season, his contract would toll for a year, and that would be a big blow to Bridgewater and cause some bad blood between the two parties over the next few months, with free agency on the horizon. With an increased likelihood that he will play this season, the Vikings can then decide whether they're ready to make a long-term financial investment in a player they have stood by during a lengthy recovery.
The good news for Bridgewater is that whenever he gets back in a game, he returns to an offense in better shape than when he last played. The strength of Minnesota’s offensive line will give confidence with Bridgewater's blindside protected by a left tackle who has not given up a sack this season.
His offensive coordinator can tailor his playcalls to Bridgewater’s strengths, much like he has with Bradford and Keenum. His most productive receiver is a completely different version of the Adam Thielen whom Bridgewater remembers throwing to during the 2015 season.
His teammates notice differences in Bridgewater, too. At practice, the quarterback relayed the ways he prepared his body to return, saying that he had been working out “like crazy” to get his upper body in top shape.
Although it might take more time to determine if Bridgewater can handle a pass rush, it’s evident now that his arm strength is good to go.
“He looks a little stronger,” linebacker Anthony Barr said. “I think the ball is traveling a little faster and a little further.”
Added Thielen: “Obviously, the great thing about Teddy is he’s very good about understanding when to throw it hard and when to take a little something off it, when to give you a little air. He’s really good about doing that. It’s been fun to have him out there just because he’s really good at understanding what receivers like and what receivers don’t like.”