The Vikings declined an expensive fifth-year option for injured quarterback Teddy Bridgewater this week, but head coach Mike Zimmer said he’s “probably more optimistic” than he’s ever been about Bridgewater eventually returning to the field.

Bridgewater, nine months removed from his left leg separating at the knee and tearing multiple ligaments, has been rehabbing at the Winter Park training facilities while his teammates have begun the first few weeks of the offseason program.

“I love Teddy Bridgewater,” Zimmer said Friday during the team’s rookie minicamp. “The guy is working his rear end off and continues to fight every single day. Everything about him, when he’s rehabbing and doing the work he has to do is the exact same way he approaches life, so. I’m excited.

“I’m probably more optimistic now about him potentially playing than I have at any point in time. But he still has a long way to go.”

The long road ahead for Bridgewater, who may not play in 2017, led to the Vikings not picking up a fifth-year option on his contract that would’ve cost more than $12 million next season, which would have been guaranteed if he were still unable to pass a physical.

However, Bridgewater’s contract would roll into next season if he’s on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the 2017 regular season.

Zimmer is continuing his own recovery from two surgeries on his right eye last month. The first operation on April 17 was scheduled after last season, however he said Friday he needed another procedure about a week later on April 25.

Zimmer, who turns 61 next month, has said he’ll also need to undergo cataract surgery in June. That operation will be at least his seventh since a scratched eye turned into a torn retina following the Oct. 31 game in Chicago last season.

When does he expect to fully see out of his right eye again?

“I hope now,” Zimmer said, under sunglasses. “But I don’t think it’s going to happen. Who knows?”

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