If you are looking for a defining date in this whole confusing and wonderfully speculative Vikings QB situation, try this one: Nov. 8, 2017.
Here in late February, any Vikings comments about Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford or Kirk Cousins are either held tightly like state secrets or — in the case of Cousins — would amount to tampering before NFL free agency begins March 14. GM Rick Spielman did the delicate tap dance at the scouting combine Tuesday, saying a lot but not really saying anything (which is his specialty, and I mean that as a compliment).
But go back to Nov. 8, and you will find an eight-minute video clip of Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer talking about all four quarterbacks as frankly as he can (though again, without divulging too many secrets).
On that date, the Vikings made it official that they were activating Bridgewater and putting Bradford on injured reserve. There was all sorts of speculation that Bridgewater would supplant Keenum as the starter at some point, but all we knew on Nov. 8 was that Keenum would start and Bridgewater would be the backup for the first Vikings game coming out of the bye — at Washington, quarterbacked by Cousins.
Zimmer met with the media on Nov. 8, a Wednesday, and was peppered with quarterback questions.
*First, about Bradford’s injury, he said, “We didn’t expect it would be this long. … Nothing really changed, it just didn’t get better.” He was even asked — and quickly sidestepped — about Bradford’s impending free agency, a reminder that at that point Bradford’s return to Minnesota in 2018 wasn’t too far-fetched. “It’s really disappointing for him because he played so great in that first ballgame,” Zimmer said later of Bradford. “He’s done everything great since he’s been here.”
*Second, he was asked about Bridgewater — who was returning to the active roster for the first time since his horrific injury in the 2016 preseason. “Really he hasn’t had training camp, done anything,” Zimmer said. “We’re just trying to get him to where everybody feels comfortable. … For the most part, I thought he’s thrown the ball well. … He’s moving fine.”
*When asked about his plan at starting quarterback beyond the Washington game, Zimmer said, “We’re just going to go day to day and see how it goes.” Later, when pressed a little more about the subject, Zimmer added, “Case has done great, so we’ll just keep going from there and see how this thing plays out.”
*Last but not least, Zimmer was asked to assess Cousins and the Washington offense he was about to go up against. “Cousins does a nice job of getting the ball out quick,” Zimmer said. “They’re an excellent play action team.”
Vikings defensive lineman Brian Robison was also asked about Cousins and said, “They want to be able to establish the run and be able to have play-action and boot passes. Kirk is really good at that. He’s really good at making those throws.”
Indeed, the Pro Football Focus stats back that up. Last season, Cousins had a 118.7 passer rating when using play action — second-best in the NFL.
If we want just a little more insight into what the Vikings thought of Cousins going into that game, here’s defensive coordinator George Edwards: “He made some great throws at the end of that game in the fourth quarter,” Edwards said of a game-winning drive against Seattle the previous week. “He hit one on Seattle’s bench and then came right back and hit one on the other side of the field. Those were big plays that led to that score. He’s got confidence in his receivers. He’ll let it go, and they do a good job of getting open down the field.”
Keenum ended up throwing for 304 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-30 win over Washington, but he also threw two costly interceptions that almost helped Cousins — who was 26 of 45 for 327 yards, one TD and one INT — bring the Redskins all the way back.
The Star Tribune reported that Zimmer told Fox’s broadcast crew in a Saturday night production meeting that “Teddy Bridgewater will be our quarterback at some point,” and said after the game, “I’ve got a plan, and we’ll just see how it goes. Sometimes plans change, but we’ll see how it goes. We’ll sit down this week and we’ll visit about it and we’re going to go from there.”
But Bridgewater was the backup that Sunday and ultimately only appeared briefly in mop-up duty in one game late in the season. Bradford was activated for the playoffs ahead of Bridgewater — a sign his knee was at least healthy enough at that point to compete — but he never played.
On Nov. 8, it was anyone’s guess as to who would be the Vikings’ QB in 2018. The smart money was probably on Bridgewater, with Bradford a possibility and Keenum a longer shot. Now it’s still anyone’s guess, with Keenum and Bridgewater the most likely of the in-house candidates even in light of this week’s reports that the Vikings don’t plan on using the franchise tag on Keenum and that Bridgewater will in fact be a free agent.
But the smartest money just might be on Cousins — the only quarterback Zimmer talked about that day who wasn’t currently on the team.