PHOENIX – There’s no quarterback controversy in Minnesota. At least not as long as there apparently remains no hint of a timetable for Teddy Bridgewater’s return from last August’s devastating knee injury.
“I honestly have no idea when he’ll be back,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer pleaded a handful of times as reporters pressed him for an hour during Wednesday’s NFC coaches breakfast at the annual league meetings. “I saw Teddy in the training room a week or so ago. He’s in great spirits, working hard, doing everything [he can]. There’s no timetable. I keep getting these questions, but when he’s ready, he’s ready.”
For now, Sam Bradford is the starter. But it’s not as if the Vikings view the 29-year-old veteran as just a starter by default. After costing the Vikings a first-round draft pick, Bradford was, according to Zimmer, “kind of remarkable when you think about it.” Arriving a week before last season, Bradford set the NFL record for completion percentage (71.6 percent) and proved he can be durable while playing with five left tackles, two offensive coordinators and the league’s worst running game.
So what happens when Bridgewater does return to full strength? Whose team will this be?
Zimmer was asked Wednesday how Bridgewater is handling the possibility of Bradford permanently taking away his job. When it was suggested that Bridgewater probably figures he can play somewhere else if not Minnesota, Zimmer paused before making it clear he still thinks highly of his fallen quarterback’s future despite how impressed he was with Bradford’s work last season.
“The biggest thing is just trying to get [Bridgewater] healthy and go from there,” Zimmer said. “I want Teddy. I don’t want him going somewhere else.”
Bridgewater is 24. He turns 25 on Nov. 10. Bradford turns 30 two days earlier, but 30 isn’t a dreaded milestone for quarterbacks. In many cases, it can be the early part of a quarterback’s prime.
Both quarterbacks are in the final year of their contracts. Bradford will count a team-high $18 million against the salary cap. Bridgewater, who will count $2.2 million against the cap in his fourth season, is unlikely to have the fifth-year option in his rookie deal picked up because of the severity of his injury and the uncertainty of his return.
But that doesn’t mean the Vikings can’t extend Bridgewater after he returns to full strength. Or extend Bradford. Or maybe both.
But a tough decision lurks. Of course, quarterback-starved teams would call it a good problem to have: Which one of these quarterbacks — both players the Vikings are happy to have lead them — do Zimmer and the Vikings pick for the long term once they have to face that decision?
“There really is no other plan [for the future at quarterback] until Teddy gets healthy,” Zimmer said. “When he gets healthy, we’ll worry about it. We don’t know when it’s going to be. If he comes in tomorrow and is 100 percent, which he won’t, but if he did, then we’d have to adjust things. But right now we don’t know when he’s going to be ready.”
With Bridgewater’s steady but slow road back, Zimmer indicated the Vikings will be acquiring a veteran quarterback soon.
When asked if he’d be comfortable with unproven Taylor Heinicke as Bradford’s primary backup, Zimmer said, “Well, I think we’re going to get some things done there.”
He repeated that when asked if it would be a veteran quarterback. Asked to put a percentage on the likelihood of another quarterback being signed, Zimmer said, “I’m probably 100 percent sure on that one.”
Meanwhile, Zimmer has been impressed with Bridgewater’s dedication to his rehab. Bridgewater spends one week every month working under Vikings head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and the other three weeks in Miami under the trainers and medical staff that helped former University of Miami and NFL running back Willis McGahee make a full recovery from a gruesome knee injury in the early 2000s.
“I walked in the training room the other day,” Zimmer said. “He had his leg up and I tickled his foot. He’s in a good place [mentally].”
Wait. Back up to that tickle part.
“He’s sitting there with his sock up there and I walk in and I just went, ‘Teddy!’ ” Zimmer said. “It was good to see him. I was excited to see him.”
Of course, the real ticklish part will come when Bridgewater is healthy again.