The sun, as Vikings coach Mike Zimmer on Tuesday predicted it would after his young franchise quarterback crumpled to the turf, did come up Wednesday morning.
Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman, the two men tackling the difficult task of getting the Vikings back to the playoffs after losing Teddy Bridgewater for the season, were probably already awake when it peeked over the horizon in Eden Prairie.
They have to act fast to stabilize the most important position in pro sports.
Some of the talking heads on TV, pointing to Zimmer’s young defense and the presence of All-Pro running back Adrian Peterson, have downplayed the loss of Bridgewater. After all, he threw only 14 touchdown passes last year, right? But perhaps a smarter analysis, perhaps from ones who watch more than the highlights, is that Bridgewater has been much better than counting stats indicated.
“He does a lot of little things that don’t show up in the boxscore that help you win games,” ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer told the Star Tribune last week. “The biggest thing he does, which is the least sexiest, least glamorous part of playing quarterback, is that he understands his team and how they’re built and how they’re coached, what their formula to win games is.”
And even though the Vikings did have a good defense in 2015, and even though no team threw less, the formula for the reigning NFC North champs did include, you know, their QB having to complete some big-time throws. And after a strong preseason, he seemed ready to make much more of them in his third season.
So now what?
Before getting official word that Bridgewater had suffered a season-ending knee injury, Zimmer expressed confidence in 36-year-old backup Shaun Hill, who played well in the second preseason game in Seattle, then needed a few days to recover afterward. But the team’s flirtation a month ago with free-agent quarterback Nick Foles, who signed with the Chiefs, suggests otherwise.
The Vikings think Taylor Heinicke has potential, but the second-year quarterback who went undrafted in 2015 is sidelined for at least three more weeks.
Rookie free agent Joel Stave and Brad Sorensen, who was re-signed Wednesday when Bridgewater went on injured reserve, will get the Vikings through Thursday night’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Rams. But Sorensen is likely just a live arm for practice, and Stave could be ticketed for the practice squad if the Vikings add another veteran, as is expected.
If the Vikings want an upgrade over Hill, who has started eight games in the past five years and never has led a team to the playoffs, they probably will have to do it via a trade. They have two third-round picks in the 2017 draft and two fourth-rounders, so they have enough draft capital to maybe go get a more competent quarterback if there is one out there they really covet.
And considering this talented team had legitimate Super Bowl aspirations before Bridgewater was lost, making such a move would be justifiable. Their odds of winning it all might still be slim, but anything is theoretically possible if they get in the playoffs, especially if Zimmer’s defense takes a big leap.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Mike Glennon is perhaps the most intriguing potential option. Strong-armed and 6-6, he is a prototypical pocket passer who is capable of completing difficult downfield throws in Norv Turner’s offense. With the Buccaneers selecting Jameis Winston first overall in 2015, Glennon has not played since 2014 — but he has a career touchdown-interception differential of 29-15.
Glennon will be a free agent this winter, but the Buccaneers, who have eyes on a playoff spot, might be reluctant to part ways with their backup plan.
Another sound theoretical option is Chicago’s Brian Hoyer, who behind a strong Texans defense last season steered Houston to the AFC South title. The journeyman played for Turner in Cleveland in 2013 and showed promise in a three-game stint before tearing an ACL that year. But there seemingly is no way the Bears would hand Hoyer over to their bitter division rivals.
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick soon could be released if the 49ers don’t deal him first. He led the 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance. But the Vikings would have to drastically alter their offense to get the most out of the tantalizing yet erratic dual threat, and Turner did not show much flexibility in 2014 and 2015 when it came to an offense he has used in the NFL for nearly three decades.
Kansas City goes four deep at quarterback, so might Foles still be an option?
Other quarterbacks who might be available one way or another in the coming days are Denver’s Mark Sanchez, Cleveland’s Josh McCown and Geno Smith of the New York Jets. None is all that inspiring, nor are the free agents available right now, led by the likes of T.J. Yates and Michael Vick.
The next step
If the Vikings bring in another quarterback in the hopes that he will replace Hill, they will need time to get him up to speed. So they will at the very least need Hill to get them through part or all of their tricky, early-season slate.
Looking beyond 2016, the Vikings will have to reassess their quarterback situation regardless of whether they can salvage this season.
In addition to a dislocation that led to a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in Bridgewater’s left knee, the Vikings said Tuesday night that he has “other structural damage” and faces “significant” recovery time.
There could be a chance that Bridgewater’s knee isn’t fully healed by next summer. And there could be a chance that he is never the same player.
Hopefully, for Bridgewater’s sake, that is not the case. But the Vikings must consider investing a midround pick on another young quarterback so they aren’t left scrambling, like they are right now, if Bridgewater gets hurt again.
First things first, though: They need a quarterback in place for their Sept. 11 opener. The sun did come up Wednesday morning. But it will rise only 11 more times before Zimmer and Spielman’s Vikings will first play a game that matters.