Finally, eight months ago, the Vikings seemingly had the most stability they have had at the all-important quarterback position in more than a decade.
Teddy Bridgewater in the previous season led the Vikings to 11 wins and an NFC North crown, in addition to earning his first career Pro Bowl nod as an alternate. And now in his final preseason cameo of 2016, he lit up the San Diego Chargers for 161 yards and a touchdown in one half of action.
Calm and cautious his first two years, Bridgewater appeared ready to let it rip.
A few days later, everything changed — for Bridgewater and the franchise — when his left knee caved while setting up to pass in a non-contact drill at Winter Park.
The Vikings have been hesitant to share a timetable for Bridgewater’s return from that career-threatening injury, which included a dislocated knee, a torn anterior cruciate ligament and other structural damage, nor have they revealed whether they will pick up their 2018 team option on Bridgewater.
And while they have committed themselves, for 2017 at least, to quarterback Sam Bradford, who replaced Bridgewater last season, the Vikings have also not publicly said whether they will try to lock in Bradford with a contract extension before Week 1.
“Everything is in flux right now so I’ll just leave it at that,” General Manager Rick Spielman said in late February before heading off to the scouting combine, where the Vikings are known to have chatted with at least a couple of passing prospects.
It would be a surprise if the Vikings, with Bridgewater in limbo and Bradford under contract for one more season, selected a quarterback during the first three rounds of this week’s NFL draft.
Still, a case can be made for them using one of their eight picks on a passer.
Vikings light on middle-round picks
Despite having Tony Romo under center, the Dallas Cowboys drafted Dak Prescott in the fourth round last spring and stumbled into a potential star. The Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins also got their Pro Bowl passers in the middle rounds.
Other NFL franchises, most notably the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers back in the day, have drafted quarterbacks even though they had Tom Brady and Brett Favre, respectively, and later traded the youngsters for more valuable picks. The Patriots could do it again this weekend with Brady backup Jimmy Garoppolo.
The Vikings, meanwhile, have drafted only six quarterbacks since 2006. Three of them —Tarvaris Jackson, Christian Ponder and Bridgewater — were early picks taken in the hopes they would develop into their franchise quarterback. They haven’t taken a flier on a late-rounder since Joe Webb in the sixth round in 2010, and Webb wasn’t originally intended to be solely a quarterback.
“We haven’t [done that] as much. You look at that and maybe that trend changes a little bit. … That’s an area that we’ll definitely [address],” Spielman said in March, before Case Keenum signed his one-year contract with $1 million guaranteed.
Spielman said the Vikings have given consideration to drafting a developmental passer this year, which would be a departure from their strategy of recent years. Former NFL coach Jon Gruden, now a broadcaster for ESPN, said last week on a conference call that this class is “a very underestimated group of quarterbacks.”
He expects North Carolina’s Mitchell Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Texas Tech’s Patrick Mahomes II — the son of ex-Twins pitcher Pat Mahomes — to be taken in the first round. He also thinks another QB will sneak into the first round based on the number of teams needing a new long-term starter.
Gruden believes Pittsburgh’s Nathan Peterman is the most pro-ready prospect in the class. His “great sleeper” is Josh Dobbs, a dual threat who majored in aerospace engineering at Tennessee. California’s Davis Webb and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer are also projected to come off the board in the first few rounds of the draft.
Among the QBs who could last until the later rounds are Virginia Tech’s Jerod Evans, Miami’s Brad Kaaya, Iowa’s C.J. Beathard and Mississippi’s Chad Kelly.
The Vikings chatted with Mahomes and Evans at the scouting combine in March.
Little known about Bridgewater’s status
They are much more likely to target an Evans type than a Mahomes. But depending on what happens in the next eight months at a quarterback position that is suddenly unstable, there is a chance the Vikings could again be looking for their next quarterback of the future a year from now, at the 2018 draft.
“It is all related to the prognosis and future for Bridgewater,” said ESPN analyst Andrew Brandt, a former Packers executive and NFL player agent.
Bridgewater has still not spoken to reporters on the record about his injury or his state of mind after suffering an injury that could have but thankfully did not cost him one of his limbs. His posts on social media, whether it was cryptic hip-hop lyrics or a video of him casually throwing a football, are the only clues he has shared about his recovery.
And then there is the matter of Bradford, who played admirably behind one of the league’s leakiest offensive lines after the Vikings traded their 2017 first-round pick to acquire him from the Philadelphia Eagles, days after Bridgewater went down.
Brandt believes the Vikings should consider trying to sign Bradford, who is in a contract year, to an extension. But he wondered if that is something the 29-year-old would entertain if they are still holding out hope that Bridgewater will play again.
“Obviously, he’s not going to do a deal unless there’s guaranteed money [for the 2018 season],” Brandt said. “So that’s [could make] a fork in the road there.”
But with Bradford back for at least one more season, veteran backup Keenum added in free agency and the team still intrigued by third-year quarterback Taylor Heinicke, the Vikings are covered for now while they wait for more answers on Bridgewater.