METAIRIE, La. -- Teddy Bridgewater's market value appeared to skyrocket last summer, when he performed well in the preseason and proved he was healthy again after a major 2016 knee injury. The New Orleans Saints were inspired enough to trade a third-round draft pick for him in August, even though he had just one year left on his contract.
But now that Bridgewater is just days away from becoming a free agent, his actual market is shrinking by the week.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are expected to sign quarterback Nick Foles once free agency officially kicks off on Wednesday. The Washington Redskins just agreed to a trade for QB Case Keenum. And the Denver Broncos made a deal for Joe Flacco last month.
That leaves Bridgewater’s hometown Miami Dolphins as the only team likely to be in need of a new starting quarterback this year; Miami was examining the trade market for Ryan Tannehill with teams at the combine, sources told ESPN. But the Dolphins might prefer to wait and draft a quarterback in 2019 or 2020.
All of this is unfortunate for Bridgewater in the short term. The former first-round draft pick deserves another starting opportunity after he went 11-5 in his last year as a starter with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015 and led them to the playoffs.
But it’s good news for the Saints if they would like to eventually hand their QB reins from 40-year-old Drew Brees to the 26-year-old Bridgewater.
Even if Bridgewater does sign elsewhere next week, it will probably make the most sense for him to sign just a one- or two-year deal. That would give him the chance to further prove himself on the field. Bridgewater has started only one game in the past three seasons because of the devastating knee injury he suffered in the summer of 2016, when he tore his ACL and other ligaments and had structural damage.
More importantly, it would increase his options the next time around -- including a possible return to New Orleans.
In a year or two, maybe Brees will be ready to hang it up. Or maybe the Patriots will be looking for a Tom Brady successor. Or Bridgewater could be reunited with New York Giants coach Pat Shurmur, who was briefly his offensive coordinator with the Vikings, if the Giants decide to move on from Eli Manning. Or maybe he could be reunited with the Vikings themselves if they decide not to re-sign Kirk Cousins when his three-year deal is up.
Who knows for sure, but it’s hard to imagine the market being any leaner than it is right now.
And for that matter, it’s also possible that Bridgewater could just stay put and keep learning under Brees and coach Sean Payton.
The circumstances aren’t ideal, since Brees is still playing at a high level and hasn’t given any public indication that he is close to retiring. Plus, the Saints have only about $10 million in salary-cap space, with some monster contracts looming for receiver Michael Thomas and others in the coming years. Also, they would lose out on a potential compensatory draft pick for Bridgewater if he stayed.
But if the Saints see Bridgewater as their future at the critical QB position -- and if he sees New Orleans as a place where he could thrive for the next decade -- they could both make some sacrifices to make it work.
The Saints liked Bridgewater enough that they traded the third-round pick to the New York Jets last August for Bridgewater and a sixth-round pick. Part of their motivation was to secure the backup role behind Brees. But part of it was also to get a closer look at a potential long-term successor.
And by all accounts, Bridgewater was everything they expected.
Bridgewater didn’t do much in his only start in Week 17, when most of the starting offense was being rested. But he was a menace to the first-team defense in practice as a trash-talking scout-team QB. His “Bike Life” dance moves were a hit in the locker room.
And Payton said last December: "People in our league know and certainly saw in the preseason. The only evaluation really teams needed was, 'How healthy is he?' And that's been answered."
The Saints nearly drafted Patrick Mahomes in 2017 to groom him as Brees’ successor. But they aren’t likely to get a crack at anyone else like that in the near future. They don’t have any picks in Rounds 1, 3 or 4 this year. And if they play up to their potential, they won’t be picking until late in Round 1 in 2020 either.
So Bridgewater might be New Orleans’ best bet for life after Brees -- whether he stays or goes this week.