On a human level, nobody wants to see a player suffer such a devastating injury — particularly his teammates and coaches, and particularly because Bridgewater is such a likable person.
On a professional level, there will always be the element of “what-if” when imagining how the season would have played out if he was healthy.
That said, the professional aspect had started to fade some when the Vikings traded for Sam Bradford and jumped to a 5-1 start — with Bradford playing well in the process.
But I’m here to revisit the on-field impact of Bridgewater’s injury in a different light: if he hadn’t been lost for the season, necessitating the Bradford trade, would offensive tackle Joe Thomas be a Viking?
We meandered to the subject on this week’s Access Vikings podcast, starting slowly when I wondered — on behalf of Vikings fans — if Minnesota should be considering making a deal for Thomas before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Reports suggest Cleveland is willing to part with him for a second-round pick.
Podcast co-hosts/Vikings writers Matt Vensel and Andrew Krammer made numerous good points as to why that would be difficult at this point (the talk starts around the 41:05 mark. The short answer: the Vikings are already hard pressed up against the salary cap — they needed some creativity just to sign Jake Long, another tackle, to a prorated veteran minimum deal — and also have less ammunition when it comes to draft picks. Rick Spielman was pretty clear a couple of weeks ago that any more improvement will have to come from within, a notion also pushed forward by coach Mike Zimmer.
The play of the offensive line all season — and particularly in Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia — has made fans thirsty for an upgrade regardless. They were desperate enough to latch onto what seemed like a pretty harmless quote from Seattle coach Pete Carroll Wednesday about the Vikings’ offensive line as a sign that Minnesota was going to trade for Thomas (really, it seemed like he was merely referencing Long).
However: if Bridgewater hadn’t been lost for the year, it’s not at all crazy to think the Vikings might have made a move for Thomas.
It’s reasonable to assume the Vikings would still be a contender based on Bridgewater’s projected improvement and what we now know about the defense’s dominance. It’s also reasonable to guess the offensive line would still be a problem if it was Bridgewater, not Bradford, under center.
Eliminate the Bradford trade — which cost the Vikings a first-round pick and a conditional fourth-round pick — and the Vikings have more ammunition to get Thomas. They also would have the cap room to do it, since Bradford’s number ($7 million) wouldn’t be on the books. Thomas’ pro-rated cap hit on the Vikings, if he was traded this week, would be about $5.5 million.
The Bradford trade also told us that Spielman A) thinks the Vikings are a legitimate contender this year and B) was willing to be bold and part with valuable draft capital in the pursuit of a game-changing player at a critical position. Bradford fits that bill. Thomas does, too.
That’s not to say the Vikings couldn’t still theoretically make a trade. But there are a lot hurdles that simply wouldn’t exist if not for Bridgewater’s injury. Add that to the pile of “what-ifs” from 2016.