Not long after the Vikings’ buses rolled up to Cedar Park Elementary in Apple Valley yesterday and the players and coaches spread out to finish building the new playground there, two quarterbacks were spotted kneeling in a quiet corner of the schoolyard with paintbrushes, side by side.
Teddy Bridgewater, the team’s quarterback of the past and maybe the future again eventually, painted in purple. Sam Bradford, the quarterback of the present, dipped his paintbrush in yellow. Their smiles and small talk seemed genuine as they used wooden storage bins as their canvases.
It’s been five months since coach Mike Zimmer announced that Bradford would be his starting QB in 2017 and used his post-season press conference to also encourage Bridgewater to worry only about his rehab.
Bridgewater has certainly done his part, making enough progress since his devastating knee injury last August to be cleared to drop back and throw passes to uncovered receivers during the past few weeks of practice. “He still has a long way to go,” Zimmer cautioned last week, but Bridgewater is now out there for OTAs, literally looking over Bradford’s shoulder.
Bradford said he is not worried about how that could affect his status.
“You’re always trying to earn your spot,” Bradford said during a break from painting. “I think in this business you have to step on the field every day and prove it regardless of where you’re at or who you are.”
Bradford, who twice tore his ACL while playing for the St. Louis Rams early in his career, reiterated that he feels for Bridgewater and is “proud” of him for pushing so hard to play again after a more severe knee injury.
“Obviously, I’ve been there,” he said. “I’ve gone through it. I know how tough it is physically and mentally. And to see him and how hard he’s working and the things he’s doing, I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
But Bradford knows a Bridgewater comeback would complicate things for the Vikings, who can’t commit to both as their quarterback of the future. Bradford, in a contract year, again said they have not approached his camp about a new deal. And with optimism about Bridgewater steadily rising, the Vikings seem content to take a wait-and-see approach.
Bradford said he would be fine with that. In 2015, after the Rams traded him to the Philadelphia Eagles, he played out the final year of his contract that season and earned his current two-year deal a couple months later. If he remains the starter and plays even better than he did in 2016 behind one of the NFL’s worst offensive lines, he will cash in somewhere.
“It really doesn’t change my approach,” he said about being in limbo. “I really haven’t even thought about it to be honest with you. So it kind of is what it is and you just approach it one day at a time. My goal is to come each day and get better and that’s how I’m always going to be.”
Bridgewater, meanwhile, still has not talked on the record since getting hurt. But his positivity remains infectious. While Bradford talked, he bounced around the playground, posing for pictures with kids and teachers. He stopped moving for a moment to say hey, shake my hand and crack a corny joke, his grin making it impossible not to laugh, too.
Then it was back to work for Teddy. There was plenty left to be done.