Just over a year ago, I wrote there was a good chance Teddy Bridgewater could become the Vikings’ first franchise quarterback since Fran Tarkenton.
That expectation grew following Bridgewater’s second season, his first full year as a starter. His success and growth made his season-ending knee injury so difficult to hear about Tuesday afternoon.
The biggest hope for Vikings fans is that Bridgewater merely misses this season and recovers in time to play next year.
Over the past 21 seasons the team has used 18 starting quarterbacks, a huge number when compared to a franchise such as the Packers, who have used five over that same stretch. The longest stretch of consecutive seasons starting for the Vikings over that stretch was Daunte Culpepper from 2000-05.
This would have been Bridgewater’s third consecutive season, but his injury will force the team to find another starter. The front office has built this team on a number of principles, but one has to believe the Vikings wanted Bridgewater to end the revolving door of starting quarterbacks.
The Vikings were gearing up for one of the most highly anticipated regular seasons in team history. The opening of U.S. Bank Stadium — and coming off last season’s 11-5 record, NFC North title and a playoff appearance — meant local and national media were expecting a successful season.
And while that’s still possible, because the Vikings’ front office and coaching staff have crafted a roster of considerable talent across all positions, there’s no question that losing a player as important and popular as Bridgewater roughly two weeks before the home opener puts a damper on the start of this important season.
Bridgewater’s impressive rookie campaign, in which he posted the highest quarterback rating of any Vikings starter since Brett Favre in 2009, put him in the perfect situation to learn and grow as a starting quarterback because of the talent surrounding him.
Bridgewater took another step forward last season. He started every game, increased his already impressive completion percentage from 64.4 percent to 65.3 percent (ninth-best in the NFL), dropped his interceptions by three despite playing in three more games and raised his quarterback rating from 85.2 to 88.7.
Most important, Bridgewater led the Vikings to their first NFC North title in six years, posting an 11-5 record and a first-round home playoff game.
In that game against Seattle, in brutally cold weather, Bridgewater was calm and efficient, going 17-for-24, passing for 146 yards and giving the team a good chance to win.
It was that finale, combined with how well Bridgewater finished the regular season — completing 67 of 100 passes for 833 yards, six touchdowns and one interception for a 108.5 QB rating in his final four games — that had many believing his third year, often one in which NFL quarterbacks take a big statistical leap, could make the Vikings a Super Bowl contender.
Pro Football Focus, the analytical sports outlet that last year rated Vikings center Joe Berger as the best in the NFL, posted a note that after three preseason games it had Bridgewater ranked as the second-best performer at quarterback and the Vikings as the best team in the NFL.
Bridgewater completed 18 of 23 passes for 253 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions over two games, missing the Seattle Seahawks game for what at the time seemed like a worrisome shoulder issue.
The team as a whole had seemed especially dominant, outscoring opponents 33-17 in the first half of the first three preseason games, when the better players are usually on the field.
Now the coaches will have to figure out how to keep this team moving forward after such a tough break. If there’s anything Vikings fans should take solace in, it’s that they will surely accomplish that.
No doubt the Vikings’ release of center John Sullivan surprised a lot of people, even though he missed all of the 2015 season because of a back injury. Sullivan, selected in the sixth round out of Notre Dame in the 2008 draft, made 93 regular-season starts for the Vikings and missed only three games from 2009-14.
I wonder what Sullivan’s reaction was when either General Manager Rick Spielman or coach Mike Zimmer gave him the bad news. What makes the release even more surprising is that Sullivan’s successor at center, Berger, is 34, will be a free agent at the end of the year and is reported to be asking for a big raise, which he deserves after his great performance last year.
Sullivan remained classy even in a tough moment. He sent out a note on Twitter last night that read: “Saying a prayer for you tonight [Teddy Bridgewater]. Stay strong, being hurt is a lonely place but you’ll come back better than ever.”
• Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers didn’t stand during the national anthem as a protest before a preseason game Friday, which could be an issue if the Vikings have any interest in him to replace Bridgewater. When Kaepernick was available in the second round of the 2011 draft, where he was selected 36th overall, there were several influential Vikings fans campaigning for the team to select him because his father was involved with a local firm. Kaepernick led the 49ers to one Super Bowl appearance and an NFC Championship Game in only five seasons, but his value has declined in recent years. He is not expected to start in San Francisco and might be available.
• One of the most important scoreboards at U.S. Bank Stadium was down during the Vikings-San Diego preseason game Sunday, making it unclear for fans whether any particular play gained or lost yardage. Word is the scoreboard will be fixed before Thursday’s preseason game against the Rams.
• Former Gophers punter Peter Mortell was recently released by the Packers. … The Patriots released former Gophers safety and 2015 fifth-round pick Cedric Thompson.
• While the Timberwolves are still a month away from training camp, an interesting note came out of the NBA rookie survey. When all incoming rookies were asked who they think is going to be the rookie of the year, the Wolves’ No. 5 overall pick, guard Kris Dunn, was the overwhelming favorite with 29 percent of the votes.
Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. email@example.com