To count down the days until Vikings rookies, quarterbacks and select veterans report to Mankato on July 23, we will reveal our ranking of the 17 most important Vikings players heading into the 2017 season. Look for the next player on our list every weekday morning at Access Vikings.
This list, created by Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer, is not a ranking of the best players on the team, though sheer talent is obviously an essential factor. It is a ranking of the players whose upcoming season will have the biggest impact on the franchise, whether it’s in 2017 or beyond.
Coming in at No. 13 on our list is quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
Teddy Bridgewater might not play a single snap in 2017, with his knee still on the mend and Sam Bradford in the huddle. But what happens over the next six months with Bridgewater, even if it remains behind the scenes, will significantly impact the Vikings franchise for years to come.
First, let’s run through a quick recap of Bridgewater’s offseason. In early January, coach Mike Zimmer declared Bradford his starting QB for 2017 and months later the Vikings declined Bridgewater’s option for 2018.
Then in May, he surprisingly was on the practice field for organized team activities, doing rehab work and throwing to uncovered receivers. And Zimmer suddenly sounded more upbeat about Bridgewater’s chances of returning from the career-threatening injury he suffered last August. All that suggested we shouldn’t rule out Bridgewater playing in 2017.
Bridgewater, meanwhile, still has not spoken publicly since he got hurt, forcing fans and media to read into his cryptic social media posts.
It still seems more likely than not that Bridgewater starts training camp on the physically unable to perform list. And there is probably still a decent chance he spends the entire season on the PUP list, which would mean his contract would toll to 2018, keeping him under team control.
But even if Bridgewater is never cleared to play in 2017, if he completes his recovery and the Vikings feel confident that the 24-year-old will return to the form he showed in his steady but unspectacular first two seasons, they could still view him as their quarterback of the future, especially if Bradford doesn’t build on his impressive first season in Minnesota.
If Bridgewater’s comeback attempt stalls, though, and his career remains in jeopardy, the Vikings could instead opt to re-sign Bradford, who as the starter entering 2017 will have some say in all of this, too. Or they could look to the stacked 2018 quarterback class for their next beacon of hope.
That’s why Bridgewater will be one of their most important players in 2017, even if he has zero impact on how they fare this season.
The Star Tribune’s ranking of the 17 most important Vikings in 2017:
16. Pat Elflein, C/G