The last time Teddy Bridgewater spoke to the media, he stood at the podium just outside the Minnesota Vikings new locker room following the team’s first-ever preseason game at U.S. Bank Stadium.
On a day where Bridgewater made impressive plays with his arm as well as his legs in a Vikings’ win, he spoke about capitalizing on opportunities because one never knows how many chances they might get. “We can’t always rely on having a second chance,” he said. “We have to make sure that we maximize it and are taking advantage of every opportunity.”
Two days later, the third-year quarterback dislocated his knee in a gruesome practice injury. Ironically, he’s now relying on a second chance to resume his career following a surgery that some athletes never recover from. Thursday will mark the seven-month anniversary of Bridgewater’s left knee injury, but we still know very little about what kind of recovery the 24-year-old quarterback is facing and when, exactly, he might return.
The conversation reignited Tuesday as video surfaced of Bridgewater moving around and throwing a football wearing his trademark gloves and a sleeve on his left leg, matching the sleeve he was seen with several times in the Vikings locker room late in the season.
— Cameron DaSilva (@camdasilva) March 28, 2017
Whether this is foreshadowing for a triumphant return or merely a small step in a lengthy recovery is unknown. Having not spoken publicly, the only clues left by Bridgewater have been short video snippets like the one released Tuesday. At minimum, the videos seem to indicate that Bridgewater’s career is in less danger than previously speculated.
Stories of Napoleon McCallum and Marcus Lattimore, who both suffered dislocated knees, have served as cautionary tales. McCallum, a Raiders fullback, was injured in 1994, when knee injuries were far tougher to rehab. He underwent six surgeries and never played in the NFL again. Lattimore, a South Carolina running back, was injured in 2012, then was drafted in 2013 by the San Francisco 49ers, but never reached a point where he could play in the league.
Thanks to the quick reaction of Vikings trainer Eric Sugarman, Bridgewater’s leg — and career — were likely saved, as Mike Zimmer reiterated Wednesday at a coaches event.
Mike Zimmer said Eric Sugarman did everything right in diagnosing the injury right away, possibly saving Teddy Bridgewater’s career.
— Chris Tomasson (@christomasson) March 29, 2017
As far as what’s been said on the record about Bridgewater’s recovery, there has been a great deal of contradiction and secrecy over the past three months.
On Jan. 3, Zimmer labeled Sam Bradford as the team’s starting quarterback and did not give a timetable for Bridgewater’s return. “I think [Sam Bradford] has earned the right to be the starting quarterback, and right now all I’m worried about is Teddy getting better.”
On Jan. 27, Bleacher Report supposedly scooped that Bridgewater would miss the entire 2017 season because doctors had told the team the recovery would take 19 months. That report was quickly refuted, not only by the team but by Bridgewater’s agent.
On Feb. 23, general manager Rick Spielman held a media luncheon where he said Bridgewater was “attacking his rehab as diligently as he can.” According to Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, Spielman also indicated that Bridgewater had not been able to perform football activities like dropping back in the pocket. That would seem to have changed with Tuesday’s video, just over a month since that statement.
Then there’s today, March 29, and Zimmer’s media session at the NFC Coaches Breakfast. Per Chris Tomasson, Zimmer said Bridgewater’s range of motion was improving and that he was running in a pool and beginning to work out on land. He also added that Bridgewater was spending one week per month in Minnesota to rehab the knee with the rest of his time being spent rehabbing in Miami.
Naturally, he gave no timetable on his quarterback’s return.
Zimmer has leaned on ‘I don’t know’ as an answer many times when asked about players’ injuries, most notably Adrian Peterson, who rehabbed a torn meniscus throughout last season and returned to action ahead of schedule.
While Zimmer’s sleight of hand may have been intentional with Peterson, it may be more authentic with Bridgewater since his injury has very little precedent. Many dislocated knees are suffered as a result of contact or collision, which was not the case with the quarterback. Many other cases include nerve or arterial damage, which Sugarman indicated was not the case on the day of the injury.
Perhaps thanks to some good fortune and quick decision-making from medical professionals, Bridgewater is on the fast track to a quicker recovery than anticipated.
The Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list feels like Bridgewater’s eventual landing spot.
But keep in mind: For Bridgewater to be ready at the start of training camp, he’d be just 11 months removed from the injury. That seems rushed, especially if the alleged 19-month recovery is anywhere near accurate. Having a healthy, capable starter in Bradford gives the team, and Bridgewater, leeway to ensure a complete recovery.
The Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list feels like Bridgewater’s eventual landing spot. PUP players must spend six mandatory weeks on the list before becoming eligible to return; then teams have five additional weeks to allow the player to begin practicing. Essentially, the Vikings could buy Bridgewater 11 weeks of rehab before making a decision. At that point, Minnesota may not need another quarterback if they still have Bradford, Taylor Heinicke and a potential veteran or rookie draft pick still on the roster. In that case, Bridgewater would likely remain PUP’d.
On the other hand, if the Vikings deal with quarterback injuries — and maybe in conjunction see their season go up in flames — a late Bridgewater return could give the organization an idea of what they have for the next season. ESPN’s Ben Goessling has projected that the Vikings will pick up Bridgewater’s fifth-year option in May, meaning he’d still be under contract for 2018.
To the Vikings’ benefit, they’re in a situation without any so-called worst-case scenarios. If Bridgewater bounces back to play this year, it would only strengthen his case as the team’s quarterback of the future and endear him further to the fan base. If he needs a second year of recovery, which nobody would fault him for, Bradford would take the reins for at least one more season. If Bridgewater’s career were tragically over, which doesn’t appear to be the case, the Vikings are in a good position to extend Bradford.
These two quarterbacks are very different (the Team Teddy vs Team Sam debates may rage for months), but they both give the Vikings a chance to win, which makes the outcome of Bridgewater’s recovery — whatever it might be — more palatable.