Teddy Bridgewater seems like the forgotten man in the New York Jets’ quarterback chase, but nobody may be more motivated headed into 2018.
The football-loving public seems to love the concept of draft busts.
Never mind the next Peyton Manning. The expansion of the NFL Draft from a mere weekend to a calendar dominating event that has the potential to make games like the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl life or death situations for certain players has led to increased scrutinization and the rise of the red flag. Now for every positive attribute a prospect possesses, they’re subsequently brought back to Earth with “red flag,” traits that destine him to become the modern-day Ryan Leaf.
The fascination behind draft busts perhaps comes from a sense of seeing athletes far mightier than the common man fall. Quarterbacks, in particular, are even juicier stories, their every move from Christmas to Easter documented like a creature on Planet Earth.
But at the end of the day, we have to remember football is a violent sport. Injuries are going to happen, more prevalently than other major sports. This is why it’s hard to consider players like Ki-Jana Carter and Steve Emtman busts, high selections the latter being top overall, that were beset by football-related ailments that stopped their career before they could truly get going.
Teddy Bridgewater could soon become the latest to fall into that draft abyss.
Bridgewater wasn’t taken as high as Carter and Emtman, falling to the final selection of 2014’s first round by Minnesota, after a stellar college career at Louisville. Nonetheless, he was expected to a crucial piece of the resurrection of the Vikings, who in desperate need of a quarterback after 2011’s would-be savior Christian Ponder failed to pan out. Bridgewater quickly beat out Ponder for the right to back up Matt Cassel, and he had the full-time job by the end of September when Cassel was forced in injured reserve.
Thrust into a job the Vikings planned to ease him into overtime, he guided the team to a surprising six wins, and got the team back into the playoffs after the ensuing 2015 season, posting an 11-5 mark that brought the NFC North title back to Minnesota for the first time since 2009. Heartbreak awaited them in the playoffs, Blair Walsh’s infamous miss dooming them to a freezing 10-9 loss against Seattle, but it was clear the Vikings had their man to lead them into the future.
The evolution of Bridgewater in Minnesota was slow and steady. Overshadowed in the NFC North spotlight by the Aaron Rodgers-led Packers, Bridgewater’s stats weren’t flashy, tallying just five 300-yard games in purple, but he got the job done. In a December game against Detroit, Bridgewater went 31-for-41, becoming the first rookie in league history to throw 40 or more passes and complete at least 75 percent of them. That game was part of a four-game stretch where Bridgewater posted at least a 70 percent completion rate, that quartet of accuracy creating another NFL-first.
US Bank Stadium, the Vikings’ palatial new dwelling in downtown Minneapolis, could very well have been “The House that Bridgewater Built,” the opening leading to a new era that would return the Vikings back to football relevancy.
Bridgewater would never start a regular season game in the new stadium.
A devastating non-contact training camp injury late to the left leg in the summer of 2016 served as the unofficial coda of Bridgewater’s Vikings career. Sustained less than two weeks before the Vikings opened their season in Tennessee, they sent a first-round draft pick to Philadelphia for Sam Bradford, as Bridgewater missed the entirety of the year.
After an 8-8 season, Bridgewater’s fifth-year option was declined, and his rehab from the crucial injury kept him mostly on the sidelines as the Vikings went 13-3, coming a game short of “hosting” Super Bowl 52 when they fell in the NFC title game. By the time he was healthy, Case Keenum’s career year necessitated Bridgewater’s return to the bench.
Bridgewater’s Minnesota career ended on a bit of a sour note, as he was kept off the team’s playoff roster, as Bradford backed up Keenum in their championship trek. Vikings fans, however, were able to show their appreciation for the brief Bridgewater era during a December blowout win over Cincinnati. Though he threw an interception on two pass attempts, the Vikings crowd greeted him warmly with a standing ovation.
The Vikings wound up dismissing their incumbent trio, breaking their bank to bring in Kirk Cousins as their new franchise quarterback. While Bradford and Keenum each inked lucrative deals in Arizona and Denver respectively, Bridgewater signed a one-year deal with the Jets, one that guarantees him only a $500,000 signing bonus.
Despite a relatively accomplished resume, one that Jets fans would perhaps love their signal callers from the recent past to boast, it still feels like Bridgewater is the forgotten man in the Jets’ quarterback race. The lion’s share of the hype has, naturally, gone to Sam Darnold, the latest in a series of potential quarterback heroes chosen in the draft, but others are looking forward to what the incumbent Josh McCown can do for an encore after posting some of the best numbers of his career.
Lost in the hype of the illustrious rookie and the seasoned veteran is the potential redemption of Bridgewater.
The reluctance in Bridgewater is understandable, considering he hasn’t seen any meaningful action since the 2015-16 playoffs. In relative recency, the Jets have seen potential franchise quarterbacks lost to injury (Chad Pennington) in the past, and would certainly love to avoid the same fate with Bridgewater.
Darnold is, undoubtedly, the Jets’ future. You don’t trade up a handful of draft spots to quit on a guy so quickly. Bridgewater, however, could be the man of the immediate future.
Through almost no fault of his own, Bridgewater’s cheap one-year deal (albeit one laden with incentives) is at risk of being sent down an NFL abyss that could transform him into a career-backup and/or journeyman … a position that has helped 2002 third-round selection McCown last 16 seasons in the league.
Bridgewater, however, knows he’s capable of more. This could be one of his final chances to prove it. It’d be hard to tell from the man’s demeanor, however, as he’s simply happy to be back on an NFL field and embroiled in a competition.
“I’m enjoying it right now. We’re doing some good things right now, getting the ball in our playmakers’ hands and that’s what you want as a quarterback,” Bridgewater told Eric Allen of the Jets official website. “At the end of the day, it’s not about me, it’s not about Sam, it’s not about Josh. It’s about the New York Jets and we understand that. We move forward with that mindset.”
Despite relative complacency, Bridgewater should not be forgotten in this game. He’s the quarterback on this team with the most to lose.
McCown is due for retirement, perhaps as soon as his contract with the Jets expires after this season. Darnold is the latest name hand-picked to potentially get the Jets over the hump that has existed since January 13, 1969, the day after Super Bowl 3. The team needs someone, anyone, to get the team back on that first step.
Bridgewater, a guy with everything to lose, could very well be that name.