Ever since the Denver Broncos shellacked the Minnesota Vikings 33-6, doom and gloom have washed over the Vikings community. Such is the way of things when your team comes out flat against an opponent that drafted in the top 10 the previous year — even if they didn’t play every single starter and a handful of backups. The quarterback position looked entirely unsteady and not remotely ready for NFL-level play. Of course, Kirk Cousins didn’t play. Jake Browning and Kellen Mond did. Neither looked capable of surpassing even Sean Mannion‘s level as a backup.
Meanwhile, across the line of scrimmage, the Broncos looked like they had two quarterbacks better than anyone the Vikings could trot out. Drew Lock looked accurate and quick with his reads, while Teddy Bridgewater showed his scrambling ability and read the field quickly in his own right. Minnesota’s defense was dominated by both players, leaving fans dissatisfied with the guys under center in purple.
So, it’s time. Jake Browning is not good enough. Kellen Mond is not remotely close to ready in the event that he has to step in. There are better quarterbacks available to back up Kirk Cousins, and if you can time it right, you can get an old friend back in purple. This is not an argument for Bridgewater to start over Cousins; that ship has sailed (much to my chagrin). But with Cousins embracing his shiny new availability concern, the Vikings need to take backup quarterback seriously.
Browning played as well as he could in camp and got a lot of praise from coaches and teammates during his solo opportunity as the only quarterback free from the NFL’s stringent COVID contact protocols. Garrett Bradbury was effusive, citing his work ethic and command of the huddle:
Mike Zimmer also had plenty of praise:
So you’d be forgiven for being unpleasantly surprised at Browning’s poor performance on Saturday against Denver. Browning missed throws, barely ever challenged the Broncos deep, and instead tried to focus on timing. Even then, Browning struggled to hit his players in stride, ending his day with an absolutely hideous pick-six.
After Browning scratched and clawed his way to completing five of 10 passes, it was Kellen Mond’s turn. Mond certainly looked better and even provided a new element to the offense. The Vikings ran read-option plays with him, as well as a couple of staples in their quick game and a rollout or two. The playbook was extremely limited, likely due to how far behind Mond is at learning it. In fact, Zimmer didn’t think it was realistic for Mond to even get into this game. But they scrounged together a handful of concepts for him to try out live.
Mond showcased some scrambling ability, but that’s about it. Many passes fell off the mark, and the offense was out of sync as a whole. This led to turfed screens, missed throws, and an entirely dysfunctional offense. Neither quarterback would find the end zone. It’s very early for Mond, who should be in the early stages of a long development arc, but Browning needed to show us more. Browning will get a couple more preseason games to earn the job, but the Vikings should focus their eyes elsewhere.
It would be irresponsible to derive a full-on evaluation of someone like Teddy Bridgewater when we have entire seasons to use instead. Teddy’s year in Carolina can tell us more about what he can do with the backup job. The Vikings don’t need as much from him as Denver would, which opens an opportunity. If Drew Lock wins that job, Teddy may exist in a space where the Broncos only see him as a backup. In that world, the price may be right for a team desperate for a second NFL quarterback in the room.
That world seems more likely than not to come to fruition. If you ask Denver, the competition is still ongoing. From Locked On Broncos host Cody Roark via DM:
Vic Fangio still says it’s Even Steven even though Drew Lock had bigger plays.
But it seems like Lock has outperformed Teddy up to this point. That’s not a great endorsement for Teddy as a starter. As a backup, however, we don’t need to worry about that as much.
A veteran backup like Teddy Bridgewater could cost the Vikings a fifth-round pick or so. That’s something the Vikings have been plenty willing to blow on kicker-punter hybrids that don’t make the team, so the cost shouldn’t be too high. Roark said that the Broncos may not be as willing to part with the backup, however:
Regardless of who loses, the other will remain the backup in the event DEN has inconsistency issues this season.
So let’s bump that up to a third- or fourth-round pick. Nick Foles went to the Chicago Bears for a fourth-round pick. His contract was an albatross for the Jacksonville Jaguars, which would have depressed that value. But Jacksonville had more confidence in Gardner Minshew than it sounds like Denver would have in Drew Lock, which may cancel out the contract effect. Call it a fourth-rounder.
To be worth the cost, Bridgewater needs to be more reliable than Sean Mannion or Brett Rypien. He needs to be someone who can give you a genuine chance in the event that Kirk Cousins misses a game or two in COVID protocol. To figure that out, let’s turn to his season with the Carolina Panthers.
It wasn’t an inspired quarterbacking season, and he fell into his same old habits. Per PFF, Bridgewater threw the 27th-most “Big Time Throws” and had the 30th-most positively graded plays. He had the fifth-least negatively graded plays. Bridgewater is a notoriously conservative quarterback, but he’s accurate enough, which keeps the ball safe. That leads to a low interception total but comes at the cost of explosiveness. Only one principal receiver, D.J. Moore, averaged a depth of target over 10 yards. Even Robby Anderson, field stretcher that he is, averaged less depth of target than Zach Ertz.
This has its advantages. Bridgewater’s accuracy was more than adequate in Carolina, even if the stakes of those throws were low.
As a starter, that’s a big problem. As a backup, that’s exactly what you’re looking for. Backup quarterbacks aren’t meant to play entire seasons. They’re meant to, pardon the pun, bridge gaps. Even without injury or COVID possibilities, Cousins could have an equipment issue, need a look after a hard sack, or otherwise be unavailable for short spurts of a game. You don’t want to have to trot out Jake Browning and hope he doesn’t throw another pick-six.
Teddy Bridgewater wouldn’t challenge Kirk Cousins for a starting job, even if you think he should. Cousins’ contract prohibits that as a reasonable option — no NFL staffer would risk such poor optics. But if Cousins needs a spell, be it for a drive, a game, or a whole month, the Vikings need to take the position more seriously than defaulting to Jake Browning because he threw some okayish passes in unpadded practices in late July.