Based on three preseason games, the Vikings weren’t going to embarrass themselves regardless of which quarterback they chose as their starter going into the season. Both Matt Cassel and Teddy Bridgewater have played pretty well in the tune-ups, meaning the decision for new coach Mike Zimmer could ultimately come down to which was the smarter play.
Zimmer doesn’t seem like a boring guy, but he does seem like someone who calculates the percentages and makes corresponding decisions. That can lead to some moves that are both boring and smart — and naming Cassel as the starter over Bridgewater fits into that category.
It’s boring because we know what Cassel can do. He’s a veteran who offers stability and the chance to give the team average QB play — something the Vikings haven’t had with consistency for several years. Bridgewater is the exciting rookie full of potential. Since this team is rebuilding, why not roll the dice right away?
Well, because the decision to start Cassel is smart for the same reason it is boring. You start with the known commodity against a tough early slate of games — three of five on the road, against teams with aggressive defenses, top QBs or both — because you know what you’re getting. You also do it because if he succeeds, he can keep the job while Bridgewater keeps learning. And if he fails, the switch to Bridgewater is seamless (the fifth game, against the Packers, is on a Thursday and therefore offers a long stretch afterward to prepare should the Vikings want to make a move then).
If you start with Bridgewater, you could catch lightning in a bottle. But if he fails early, it’s much harder to go from the rookie to the veteran than vice-versa. It’s common sense. A rookie coach doesn’t want to start 0-5 or 1-4 with a rookie quarterback. Then nobody looks good. If the coach starts that way with a veteran, there is still hope on the way. Zimmer’s comments seem to indicate he’s even thinking along these lines. Per Access Vikings, here are a pair of quotes from Zimmer:
“It wasn’t just about the quarterbacks. It’s not always the best player at that position — and I’m not saying that Matt’s not. … It’s all about how everything works together. And at this stage, where we’re at right now, it’s the best thing to do.”
“We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position. If you perform, you play. If you don’t, then somebody else will get an opportunity at some point.”
It sure sounds like Cassel is the starter for now, and our guess is that he has a five-game audition. It might make the early part of the season a little less interesting than if Bridgewater had the keys from the start, but sometimes boring and smart go hand in hand.