As the 2017 NFL season ended for the New York Jets, the depth chart featured a starting quarterback in Bryce Petty, a bust in former second-rounder Christian Hackenberg and an injured veteran who was more coach than player in Josh McCown. The Jets' 2017 season ended with no clear-cut answer at quarterback. Now the 2018 season starts with a surplus at the position.
Petty is gone—released and signed by the Miami Dolphins. Hackenberg is out of the league—traded to the Oakland Raiders in May after two seasons in which he never saw a regular-season snap, and then released by Oakland. McCown is still on the roster, but he's better off in a backup role.
Those additions: 2018 No. 3 overall pick Sam Darnold and veteran Teddy Bridgewater, who is looking to make his comeback after a gruesome knee injury before the 2016 season that limited him to just one appearance in two seasons. Darnold is the future, but Bridgewater might be the right now. Or he could be valuable trade bait for the Jets in a move similar to the one the Minnesota Vikings made when they traded a future first-round-pick for Sam Bradford once Bridgewater was injured.
It wasn't that long ago when Bridgewater's football future was in doubt. After missing all of the 2016 season, he took the field in a blowout of a Week 15 home game, threw two passes and had one picked off. That didn't stop the fans in Minneapolis from cheering him on. It didn't mean that Teddy was back to take his crown as the starting quarterback of the Vikings, but it meant that he was healthy enough to play again.
When an NFC North scout was asked about Bridgewater, he responded: "Loved him when he was in Minnesota, but I haven't seen him in like two years. Think that's your starting point when talking about him. I'm sure our pro guys [pro scouting department] will be watching closely in the preseason."
Bridgewater had suitors in free agency, but the Jets presented a chance to start with a rookie coming in. Throughout summer workouts and camp, reports have been positive enough that there's now talk Bridgewater might be a trade piece.
So, will the Jets trade him? A Jets source told me Bridgewater has a chance to start for them this season. Keeping Bridgewater is cheap—he's set to make around $6 million this season—and he is the perfect stopgap quarterback who can take the field until Darnold is ready.
Trading Bridgewater makes sense because he's cheap for a new team to squeeze under the salary cap, but he also has to prove he's healthy.
Who could be looking to add a quarterback like Bridgewater?
The obvious answer is any team that has a starting quarterback suffer an injury in training camp or the preseason. That's what happened to Bridgewater and could unfortunately happen to another team. If Russell Wilson pops an ACL in the preseason, the Seahawks could trade for Bridgewater and not ruin their short-term salary cap. The same goes for any other NFC team—just don't expect the Jets to help anyone in the AFC should this happen.
Once you eliminate AFC teams and without being able to predict injuries, two teams stand out as possibilities.
The New Orleans Saints are starting a 39-year-old Drew Brees and still don't have a long-term plan in place for life after him when his contract expires after the 2019 season. Bringing Bridgewater in on a cheap one-year deal to acclimate him to the offense and be set up for the future is the kind of smart move the Saints have been making recently.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be without starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the first three games of the season after the NFL suspended him for off-field conduct. Winston hasn't exactly lit up the NFL since being the first overall pick in the 2015 draft. Bridgewater could start the first three games and provide competition for Winston, which might be what the former Florida State star needs to reach his potential.
Trading for a quarterback in the preseason rarely results in an immediate impact, but Bridgewater's high football IQ and versatile style of play make him a fit in any offensive system. He proved in his two years starting for the Vikings that the mental side of the game is his strong suit. If he can prove himself healthy throughout training camp and the preseason, a starting job is likely for Bridgewater either in New York or elsewhere.
Matt Miller covers the NFL and NFL draft for Bleacher Report.