Mike Zimmer plans to take a few days to mull whether to keep Pat Shurmur as his offensive play-caller. He needs a few months to, with the help of the front office, fix the perennially underperforming Vikings offensive line. And a decision must be made about fading franchise icon Adrian Peterson.
But the Vikings coach already has settled on his quarterback for 2017.
“Sam [Bradford] has played great this year,” Zimmer said Tuesday. “I think he’s earned the right to be the starting quarterback and right now all I’m worried about is Teddy [Bridgewater] getting better. … Sam has done remarkable, the things he’s done this year with all the things he’s had to do.”
While acknowledging at his season-ending news conference that there still is no timetable for Bridgewater’s return and not denying there is a chance that the devastating knee injury may have ended Bridgewater’s career, Zimmer endorsed Bradford, who was 7-8 as the starter in 2016.
Despite getting battered behind a leaky offensive line and getting little help from the NFL’s 32nd-ranked rushing offense, Bradford had a career year after the Vikings traded a 2017 first-round draft pick and a 2018 fourth-rounder for him in September, days after Bridgewater went down in practice.
Bradford passed for 3,877 yards and 20 touchdowns with only five interceptions. His 99.3 passer rating was the best of his career. And his 71.6 completion percentage set the NFL’s single-season record, the same mark Bridgewater had set his sights on before he crumpled to the turf in late August.
Zimmer said Tuesday that Bridgewater’s injury is unique in its complexity, making it difficult for the medical staff to compare it to something similar when attempting to determine a realistic recovery timetable.
“There’s just so many variables with this particular injury,” he said. “I do know this: Teddy is a guy that will do everything possible to get back as soon as he possibly can. And he would be a guy that I would never bet against.”
But while Bridgewater continues to focus on the long road back, the Vikings are penciling Bradford in as their starter. The 29-year-old is in the final year of his current contract, which pays him $18 million in 2017.
Now they have to give Bradford a chance by improving his supporting cast.
After saying goodbye to his players Monday, Zimmer turned his attention back to “a lot of the football things” early Tuesday morning, chatting with coaches and members of the personnel staff before his news conference.
“We will be on a mission to get this thing fixed to get where we need to go. I do think we have a good nucleus on this football team,” said Zimmer, who will do “a lot of soul searching as to why we didn’t get into the playoffs.”
Much of that fixing presumably will take place on the offensive side of the ball, where the Vikings ranked 23rd in scoring and 28th in total yards.
Zimmer said he has not yet decided whether to make changes with his coaching staff. But he did praise Shurmur, who has a close relationship with Bradford, for getting the offense to perform a little better after Norv Turner, Zimmer’s offensive coordinator since 2014, resigned in November.
“I do think that Pat did a very, very good job, especially under the circumstances that he was put in. I think, offensively, we improved a lot in the passing game. You can look at the statistics,” Zimmer said. “I think the offensive players respect him, and we’ll just figure all those things out.”
Those circumstances included Shurmur having to make do with an offensive line that was decimated by injuries in 2016 and is in need of an overhaul this offseason. The Vikings must find two or three new starters up front.
“I thought we were going to be in good shape,” Zimmer said of his blockers. “Obviously, we had a lot of things happen. We’re going to evaluate all of that. We’re going to look at all those things, not just the offensive line.”
One of those things is the running game, specifically the fading superstar who averaged 1.9 yards per carry in three appearances this past season.
While there is no chance the Vikings pay Peterson, who will turn 32 this spring, the $18 million he is scheduled to earn in 2017, Zimmer would not say whether the franchise plans to move on from the seven-time Pro Bowler.
“He’s done some unbelievable things and he’s under contract,” Zimmer said.
Asked if he was able to get a clear read of how much Peterson has left in the tank given that he missed 13 games, Zimmer responded, “Part of it is evaluating not just him, but did we block this thing right? Did we get this done? So there’s a lot of different things [to consider] as we move forward.”
Except for his starting quarterback. That decision already has been made.