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Vikings will likely decline Teddy Bridgewater's 2018 option, per ESPN

TEDDY_BRIDGEWATER

With still no guarantee that Teddy Bridgewater will ever be able to return to full health, the Vikings are not expected to pick up their 2018 team option for the quarterback by the May 3 deadline to do so, according to ESPN.

If they decline to exercise the option, 2017 will be the final year of his deal.

Bridgewater last week joined his Vikings teammates at Winter Park for the start of the team's offseason program and he continues to rehab his surgically-repaired left knee at the practice facility. On Tuesday, General Manager Rick Spielman again praised the 24-year-old quarterback for the way he has attacked his rehab.

"[Bridgewater] has been incredible," Spielman said. "He’s been in here working as hard as anyone, fighting his way back. I wouldn’t put it past that kid how quickly he can comeback. But it’s still unknown."

That uncertainty when it comes to Bridgewater's long-term prognosis could discourage the Vikings from picking up his option for 2018.

The Vikings traded back into the first round in 2014 to get Bridgewater, in part because first-round picks now come with an option for a fifth year of contractual control for the team. But those fifth-year options, which teams must exercise before the player's fourth season, are guaranteed for injury.

Last spring, the Vikings exercised their fifth-year option for defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, a 2013 first-round pick. Floyd had knee surgery in September and remains sidelined due to complications from that surgery. When he couldn't pass a physical by the start of the league year, his $6.8 million salary became guaranteed.

If something similar were to happen with Bridgewater, where he was still not cleared by the start of the 2018 league year, the Vikings would be on the hook for around $12 million guaranteed.

In his report this morning for ESPN, Adam Schefter quoted an unnamed source that said "the injury guarantee makes it tough to do."

Even if the Vikings decline the option, they could still theoretically work out a new contract with Bridgewater, who suffered his career-threatening knee injury last August, before he reaches free agency next spring.

On Tuesday, Spielman was asked about his cloudy quarterback situation. Coach Mike Zimmer has already declared that Sam Bradford will be the team's starter in 2017. But Bradford is in the final year of his contract and the quarterback said Tuesday that the Vikings had not reached out to his agent about an extension.

The Vikings, while they wait for more answers on Bridgewater, might be reluctant to commit to Bradford over the long term.

"Nothing is concrete or no decisions have been made," Spielman said Tuesday.

But, based on the ESPN report, it sounds like the Vikings have a pretty good idea of how they will proceed with Bridgewater in the short term.

Vikings draft preview: Quality, depth, need merge at running back

Note: Until the 2017 NFL draft starts April 27, we’ll take a look at where things stand at each Vikings position group. We’ll combine some in order to address as many as possible. Check for a new post each weekday.

If this were a Wonderlick question, we’d all pass.

The Vikings had three bonafide NFL-ready running backs. They subtracted two (Adrian Peterson and Matt Asiata). Then they added one (Latavius Murray).

What’s left?

That’s right. A need at running back.

Fortunately for the Vikings, this year’s NFL draft has been hyped as one of the best ever at the position.

Without a first-round pick, the Vikings likely will miss out on the classic power back (Leonard Fournette), the best three-down back (Dalvin Cook) and the best do-everything back (Christian McCaffrey). But even on Day 2, the options appear plentiful with the likes of Tennesee’s Alvin Kamara, Texas’ D’Onta Foreman and, yes, Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon, who comes with well-documented video evidence of his character concerns.

Murray, 27, is fresh enough to be a featured back. Jerick McKinnon, the Vikings’ third-round pick in 2014, is well-suited as a third-down back in Pat Shurmur’s pass-oriented system. But, ideally, the Vikings would like an explosive young runner to share the workload initially and take over when he hits his prime.

The Vikings have two other running backs: C.J. Ham and Bishop Sankey. But they’re developmental projects better suited for the practice squad as emergency replacements. The Vikings’ third back should be the team’s running back of the future.

Finding that guy could increase the team’s explosive plays, help a rebuilt offensive line and take the sting out of the Peterson joining the New Orleans Saints on Tuesday and making his debut against the Vikings in the season opener on Monday Night Football.

Projected starters: Latavius Murray at running back and Zach Line (currently unsigned) at fullback.

Don’t forget about: McKinnon. As a three-down back, he’s too small. As a third-down back, he could be ideal on a team that hopes to have a better offensive line and a more clearly defined attack in Shurmur’s first full season as offensive coordinator.

Level of need: High at running back, low at fullback.

Five prospects to remember: Possible Day 2 options: Kareem Hunt, Toledo; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma; D’Onta Foreman, Texas; Curtis Samuel, Ohio State; Alvin Kamara, Tennessee.

Our best guess: At some point on Day 2, the Vikings will select a running back and call him “the best available player on the board.” The only question is whether the Vikings will use their first pick (48th overall) or one of their two third-rounders on this obvious need.

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