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Teddy Bridgewater Is a Risk, but Could Be the Biggest Steal of Free Agency

Brad Gagnon@Brad_Gagnon NFL National ColumnistMarch 10, 2018

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater smiles on the bench against the Detroit Lions during an NFL football game in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Paul Sancya/Associated Press

It's been over two years since impending free-agent quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed an NFL pass. He's attempted two in garbage time, and one of those was intercepted.

A Pro Bowler at the age of 23, the 2014 first-round pick's career was derailed by a devastating knee injury just prior to the 2016 regular season, and he spent well over a year recovering from surgery. 

That's what makes Bridgewater such an interesting case in free agency. As his rookie contract expires, the 25-year-old's early-career accomplishments with the Minnesota Vikings have been clouded immensely by the fact he has taken just nine live snaps in a two-season period. 

On one hand, he's young and only two years removed from a season in which he completed 65.3 percent of his passes while helping the Vikings make the playoffs. He posted a 108.5 passer rating during the final quarter of his sophomore season. He's a highly skilled player at the sport's most important position. 

On the other hand, Bridgewater's situation is basically unprecedented. Three years ago, while researching for an article on Sam Bradford (who coincidentally went on to replace Bridgewater when he went down in Minnesota), I combed through the bowels of Pro Football Reference and couldn't find a single regular starting quarterback under the age of 30 who had missed more than 25 games in a two-year span. 

Eric Edholm @Eric_Edholm

This morning Twitter has told me Teddy Bridgewater: 1. Is an All Pro 2. Is a perfect backup 3. Will never play again with “that knee” 4. Is past his prime (my favorite, since he’s 25) 5. Will make anywhere between $2M and $20M per year Keep up the good work, everyone

Even if you claim Bridgewater was technically healthy enough to play when he was active during the final eight games of the 2017 regular season, he missed 24 games in two seasons.  

The closest comparisons to Bridgewater are Bradford (who missed a combined 25 games due to injury with the St. Louis Rams in 2013 and 2014) and Archie Manning (who missed the entire New Orleans Saints' 1976 season and four games in 1977). 

The good news is both of those quarterbacks got their careers back on track. Bradford started 14 games with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2014 before posting the highest completion rate in NFL history in 15 starts with the Vikings in place of Bridgewater in 2016. Meanwhile, Manning went on to start three consecutive full seasons between 1978 and 1980. Bridgewater is also younger than those two were at the time, and unlike them, he's got a Pro Bowl nod under his belt. 

The complicated news is Bridgewater missed all of that time getting over one career-threatening injury, while Bradford was sunk by two separate torn ACLs (in the same knee, less than a year apart) and Manning's injuries were unrelated to each other. 

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 4:  Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater #5 of the Minnesota Vikings throws as he warms up before a game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 4, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Get
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Will open-market suitors view the glass as half-full and figure that Bridgewater should eventually get back to where he was before suffering an isolated injury?

Former Cleveland Browns general manager and Eagles player personnel consultant Phil Savage suggested in 2015 that the left knee that Bradford injured in back-to-back seasons "scared off 90 percent of the teams" on the market, per Randy Miller of NJ.com. And sure enough, another non-contact injury to said knee cost Bradford most of his 2017 season. There were clues that Bradford was injury-prone and experiencing something chronic, while Bridgewater hadn't suffered a significant injury since high school before going down last August.

Open-market suitors could certainly be deterred by the possibility that Bridgewater will simply never be the same player he was before such a significant injury. Again, we don't have a lot to go off here, and every injury is at least somewhat unique. 

Breaking down a study conducted by the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine, Ian McMahan of The Guardian wrote last year that "because their performance is less tied to lower-body speed and explosiveness, 12 out of the 13 NFL quarterbacks studied after ACL surgeries were able to resume playing at pre-injury levels." However, as McMahan notes, "not all ACL injuries are created equal."

And Bridgewater's knee was damaged well beyond the ACL. It was also dislocated. Running back Marcus Lattimore suffered a similar injury at South Carolina in 2012, and it ultimately ended his career. But Lattimore played running back—a position that puts a lot more pressure on a player's knees. 

There's little doubt this all jeopardized Bridgewater's future, but he's back on the field, and in November, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero reported that the Louisville product was "throwing better than he was" before the catastrophic injury. 

John Minchillo/Associated Press

That's why he's about to become the ultimate boom-or-bust free agent.

When Aaron Rodgers was Bridgewater's age, he was in his first year as a starter. Steve Young was in his first full season as a starter with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Kurt Warner was playing in the Arena Football League. Warren Moon had yet to take an NFL snap.

Time is on Bridgewater's side, which might explain why he's looking for a one- or two-year contract in hopes of landing a bigger deal down the line, per Newsday's Calvin Watkins.

In this climate, he still has a great shot at breaking the bank. Last March, Mike Glennon landed a three-year, $45 million contract in free agency, even though he was coming off a two-season stretch in which he threw just 11 passes. Bridgewater is younger, more talented and has a higher ceiling. Look for him to sign a short-term deal worth at least $15 million per year, which is more than any backup quarterback in pro football but less than any veteran starter. 

If the knee isn't right, it'll likely be his last contract. If it isn't a problem, Bridgewater will be the steal of the 2018 NFL offseason. 

        

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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