In case you haven’t heard, the NFL is a quarterback league. The quarterback position is by far the most valuable across all 32 teams, and the lack of a franchise quarterback can severely handicap any team, regardless of how much talent is on either side of the ball.
The Houston Texans and Green Bay Packers are very aware of this fact. The losses of Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers sent their respective teams spiraling towards losing seasons.
This is why organizations are willing to dish out big bucks for starting quarterbacks, like the San Francisco 49ers’ recent deal with Jimmy Garoppolo, which was worth a whopping $137.5 million over five years.
The Minnesota Vikings are also aware of the desperate need for a franchise quarterback. In the years after Brett Favre’s (final) retirement, the Vikings have started eight different players at the position, including an aged Donovan McNabb and draft bust Christian Ponder.
This offseason, however, the Vikings have a rather unusual situation. They have three solid quarterbacks that all deserve to be a starter, and their contracts all expire this year. This leaves the Vikings’ front office in an extremely difficult three-way choice.
Should they go with Teddy Bridgewater, the young fan-favorite coming back from a gruesome knee injury? Or should they choose Case Keenum, the underdog that led the Vikings to the NFC championship? Maybe they role with Sam Bradford, the extremely talented gunslinger who has dealt with multiple injuries.
Let’s take a look at all of the Vikings’ quarterbacks and where the team could possibly go heading into the 2018 season.
Keenum was one of the greatest stories of the 2017 season, going from an unwanted free agent to a franchise hero. He helped lead the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game.
In his 15 regular season games, Case Keenum threw for 3,547 yards, 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions while posting an impressive 98.3 passer rating. After a knee injury sidelined Bradford in Week 2, Keenum took the starting job and never looked back.
Including the playoffs, Keenum led the Vikings to a 13-4 record. During that time, Keenum showed incredible poise and accuracy from the pocket, taking advantage of speedy wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Despite continued controversy over losing his job to Bradford throughout the regular season, the pressure never bothered Keenum. He consistently silenced any doubts about his playing ability.
What’s possibly more impressive is that Keenum wasn’t even signed by the Vikings until the later part of free agency. Keenum signed a one-year, $2 million deal to be the team’s backup. Keenum’s rags-to-riches story of an underdog fighting his way to the top inspired football fans across the country. Now he has an opportunity to cash in.
The Sam Bradford situation is a complicated one to say the least. After an injury-plagued start to his career with the Rams, Bradford was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he played a rather uninspiring single season. He was then traded again to the Minnesota Vikings with only a few weeks before the start of the 2016 season after a gruesome knee injury to former starter Teddy Bridgewater.
Bradford went on to exceed all expectations in 2016, throwing for 3,877 yards and setting a new single-season record for completion percentage at 71.6 percent. He then followed up this campaign with an outstanding season debut against the New Orleans Saints, throwing for 346 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Bradford appeared to be a way-too-early MVP candidate before injuries derailed yet another season, forcing him to miss the remainder of the 2017 season. Bradford’s injuries cast doubt over his ability to play an entire season, and it is uncertain if another team will be willing to give him another opportunity to start.
Teddy Bridgewater is one of the biggest wildcards to watch during the 2018 offseason. The 25-year-old has not thrown a meaningful pass in two full years, and many wonder if his catastrophic knee injury before the 2016 season could severely alter his playing style in the future.
During his first two years as the Vikings’ starting quarterback, Bridgewater slowly improved his play by reducing his interceptions and increasing his completion percentage. Bridgewater did throw two passes this season, although one was intercepted by Cincinnati Bengals safety Shawn Williams.
Although many expect Bridgewater to become an unrestricted free agent this March, there is a scenario in which Bridgewater is retained by the Vikings without negotiating a new contract. Since Bridgewater was placed on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list until Week 6 of this season, a clause in his rookie contract may allow his rights to be “rolled over” into the 2018 season.
Although unlikely, this process would require a legal battle between the NFL and NFLPA to settle on whether this clause applies to Bridgewater’s situation.
Kyle Sloter went undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft before being signed by the Denver Broncos. After an impressive preseason outing, he was then signed off the Broncos’ practice squad by the Minnesota Vikings last September.
Sloter did not play at any point during the 2017 season and is expected to compete as the Vikings’ backup quarterback. In his senior year at the University of Northern Colorado, Sloter threw for 2,656 yards, 29 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
What to Expect
On the surface, it seems that Bradford is the odd man out in Minnesota. Ideally, the Vikings would like to re-sign both Bridgewater and Keenum on short-term contracts and allow them to compete for the starting quarterback position during the 2018 offseason.
However, the Vikings reportedly have interest in soon-to-be free agent Kirk Cousins. The Vikings have plenty of cap space and a solid supporting cast, making it an ideal fit for Cousins should they go that route.
If the team must choose between Keenum and Bridgewater, the best option would most likely be Bridgewater. Despite questions about his surgically-repaired knee, Bridgewater is still very young and has the most potential out of all of the quarterbacks on the Vikings’ roster. If his knee is fully recovered, Bridgewater could have a breakout season in 2018.
Featured image by AP Photo/Andy Clayton-King
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