Teddy Bridgewater's stint on PUP list to start 2017 season could decide his free-agency status

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- If Teddy Bridgewater's contract is tolled for the 2018 season, it won't be a decision that's made by the Minnesota Vikings.

According to general manager Rick Spielman, Bridgewater is "technically ready to become a free agent," but there remains the prospect that the Vikings quarterback could have his contract tolled for next season, meaning he would play for the same $1.354 million he earned in 2017, because of the time he spent on the physically unable to perform list for the first six weeks of the season during the last year of his rookie contract.

Spielman did not detail how a decision to toll Bridgewater's contract would ultimately be made or whether the Vikings would have to make a request to the NFL to take action.

"If it goes into that area, it's not a Minnesota Viking [decision] -- that's an NFL and player union that will have to decide that area," Spielman said.

However, if it does get to that point, the NFLPA likely would file a grievance against the NFL and fight the decision in court.

The issue stems from whether Bridgewater was medically cleared to play prior to Week 6. The quarterback dislocated his left knee and tore multiple ligaments, including the ACL, during a noncontact drill in preseason practice on Aug. 30, 2016. He spent nearly 14 months rehabilitating the injury before he was cleared to resume practicing in October.

Bridgewater started the season on the PUP list, which he had to stay on for the first six weeks before being cleared to play. The quarterback was medically cleared to return to practice on Oct. 16, 2017, but has said he felt he could have returned sooner.

"Honestly, I probably could have practiced a while ago, but we wanted to be smart about everything," Bridgewater said ahead of Week 7. "I probably wasn't ready to be around moving guys and things like that, so using those six weeks just helped me with different drills and things like that, that apply to practice, that apply to the games."

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who clarified that the matter stems from language in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, said he was unsure how the players' union would become aware of the prospect of Bridgewater's contract tolling.

"I don't know the answer to that," Smith said. "I don't know whether it comes from the club or from the league. So, I'm not going to speculate."

Smith also was unclear on the league's timeline to make a decision. It is believed that if a decision is made to toll Bridgewater's contract, it needs to be done prior to the start of free agency. Teams can begin entering contract negotiations two days ahead of the start of the new league year, which beings on March 14.

Spielman also declined to discuss a timeline when asked about it earlier Thursday.

Should the NFLPA be drawn into a legal battle, Smith says they have access to all of Bridgewater's medical data with the Vikings, which would determine whether he was actually ready to return to practice before Week 6.

"The tolling agreement is inextricably tied, when it comes to that last year, and in the Bridgewater case, one of the critical issues is whether he was medically cleared or medically able to play," he said. "We'll continue to look at that issue. We stay in touch with his agent."