Every Vikings practice for years has ended with Aaron Neumann, the team’s assistant equipment manager, yelling, “Bring it up!”
Except for one.
A year ago, on Aug. 30, 2016, a practice that began as humdrum as any other ended abruptly early on when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s left leg essentially snapped in two. The knee dislocated, multiple ligaments were torn and a franchise’s future was altered short-term and possibly long-term as well.
In a blink during that infamous noncontact drill, practice ended with devastated teammates kneeling in prayer, head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman scrambling to save a leg on a face of the franchise, and paramedics racing toward the scene with sirens screaming.
Three-hundred and sixty-five days later, the shock is gone. Softened in a sea of never-ending NFL injuries. And the short-term stability and clarity is much greater with Sam Bradford heading into his second Vikings season since being acquired and Case Keenum serving as the younger, stronger-armed upgrade over former backup Shaun Hill.
But the long-term questions still linger and threaten to grow darker.
They’ll continue lurking as Bridgewater starts the regular season on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list. As Bradford starts off fast or slow in the final year of his contract. As Week 6 passes and Bridgewater becomes eligible to be activated.
And, perhaps, as the Vikings and the NFL go to battle with Bridgewater and the players’ union over the interpretation of a rule in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) regarding the tolling of contracts for players in the final year of their current deal, as is the case for Bridgewater.
Depending on the interpretation, Bridgewater could become a free agent after the season or have his contract tolled, which means he would stay bound to the Vikings for another year under the same $1.354 million salary he’ll make this season.
Asked for clarification Tuesday, an NFL official pointed to this clause in the CBA:
CONTRACT TOLLED. A player on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform is compensated at the applicable rate specified in his NFL Player Contract. His contract will not be tolled for the period that he is on Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform, except in the last year of his contract, when the contract will be tolled if he is still physically unable to perform his services as of the sixth regular-season game.
That last line would indicate that Bridgewater’s contract will be tolled Saturday when he’s placed on regular-season PUP. After all, he wouldn’t be eligible to return until after the sixth regular-season game. Right?
Not so fast. The union would challenge that with past cases in which the NFL has interpreted the clause to require that a player be on PUP for the full year for the contract to be tolled.
The Vikings deferred to the league for interpretation.
There’s also the question of who determines whether Bridgewater is capable of coming off the PUP list. That in itself could be challenged by Bridgewater and the union if he believes he’s ready and the Vikings rule otherwise.
Coach Mike Zimmer said Bridgewater “has progressed a lot” and must show that he’s able to “protect himself and be able to do the movements that are required by his position” before he can come off PUP.
“When he’s there,” Zimmer said, “he’ll practice.”
So far, the Vikings have had a smooth ride through this potentially bumpy situation thanks to a pair of team-oriented quarterbacks with measured personalities. Bradford showed up eager to work, didn’t ask for an extension and hasn’t said a word while defenders Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen and Linval Joseph signed megadeal extensions. And Bridgewater said nothing remotely controversial in the one and only time he’s spoken publicly since the injury.
The best piece of advice going forward for impatient fans is, well, patience. The NFL has a way of settling these things with wins and losses.
If the Vikings make the playoffs with Bradford, bet on him getting the starter’s contract and Bridgewater becoming a free agent or having his team-friendly contract tolled whether he likes it or not. If Bradford fails and the team misses the playoffs, bet on Bradford exiting and Bridgewater, if healthy, getting an incentive-laden extension and being given the opportunity to restart a career that was steadily rising until everything changed before Neumann’s signature “Bring it in!” could place a peaceful stamp on the afternoon of Aug. 30, 2016.