If Teddy Bridgewater’s career with the Vikings is to continue, the team will have to sign him to a new deal for the 2018 season.
League sources said Tuesday morning that the NFL Management Council has decided not to toll the quarterback’s 2017 contract into the new league year, resolving a potentially contentious issue after Bridgewater’s 2016 knee injury caused him to begin the 2017 season on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. Bridgewater is set to become a free agent March 14.
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement says a player on the PUP list and in the final year of his contract will have his deal tolled “if he is still physically unable to perform his football services as of the sixth regular-season game.”
The Vikings activated Bridgewater from the PUP list after their Week 6 victory over the Green Bay Packers, setting up the possibility his contract could toll into 2018. Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman said before the Super Bowl, though, that Bridgewater was “technically ready” to become a free agent in March, and that any decision to carry over the final year of the quarterback’s original four-year contract into his fifth season would be made between the league and the NFL Players Association, independent of the Vikings.
Had the NFL decided to enact the tolling provision of the CBA on Bridgewater’s contract, it likely would have triggered a grievance from the NFLPA. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith said on Feb. 2 that the union’s position was “if a player is medically cleared to play, he needs to be activated.
“At times, does that result in a fight between the union and management over a provision in the tolling agreement? Yes. Does it mean that might be language we would want to look at again and change in a new CBA? Yes.”
The union’s case likely would have hung on whether Bridgewater was medically ready to return from the PUP list before he could be activated after six weeks.
Bridgewater said in October he had been ready to practice for several weeks before he was activated, and if the NFLPA would have been able to point to medical data corroborating that claim, it might have been able to successfully argue Bridgewater’s contract should not toll.
Instead of going that route, though, the league and union decided by mutual agreement that Bridgewater should become a free agent.
What the open market holds for the 25-year-old remains to be seen. He appeared in only one game in 2017, throwing an incomplete pass and an interception in mop-up duty in a Dec. 17 victory over Cincinnati.
He was inactive for the Vikings’ two playoff games, though the Vikings used him as their backup for the second half of the regular season and maintained he was healthy enough to play.
Asked on Jan. 23 if he would have liked to see more of Bridgewater on the field, coach Mike Zimmer said, “Quite honestly, for him to get on the field is an unbelievable achievement. When this injury happened, I can go through it, we researched this injury. There was 24 of these similar types of injuries through all sports, half of them never came back. I think the earliest one that anybody ever came back was 24 months.
‘‘So, for him to even get to that point to where he was, and be able to come out and practice and compete, get in a game, was a true credit to him. Would I have liked to see him more on the field? Yeah.”
Bridgewater, whose last start came in the Vikings’ NFC wild-card loss to the Seattle Seahawks following the 2015 season, made $1.354 million in 2017. He said at the end of the season he “definitely” sees himself as a starter in 2018.
The Bridgewater decision moves the Vikings a step closer to widespread changes at the quarterback position. NFL Network reported Monday that the Vikings have elected not to use the franchise tag on Case Keenum, who is also set to become a free agent March 14 after throwing for 3,547 yards and 22 touchdowns while leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. Sam Bradford, who began last season as the starter before having his year interrupted because of a knee injury, is also expected to hit free agency.
There is a widespread belief in NFL circles the Vikings could be among the teams vying for the services of Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is scheduled to become a free agent after playing on the franchise tag the past two seasons.
Cousins, who turns 30 in August, has thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of the past three years, leading the league in completion percentage (69.8) in 2015 and making the Pro Bowl in 2016 after throwing for 4,917 yards.