In the past 15 months Teddy Bridgewater has seen his knee destroyed, his job handed to another replacement franchise quarterback, and his franchise consider sidelining him for another season to keep him under contractual control for another year.
For all of the physical trauma and emotional upheaval, Bridgewater finds himself facing a familiar question, one that frames the Vikings’ chances for the rest of this season and perhaps the rest of the decade.
How good can Teddy be?
That was the question when the Vikings chose him in first round in 2014. That was the question when an injury to Matt Cassel forced Bridgewater into the lineup early in his rookie season.
That was the question when Bridgewater led the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015 and entered training camp in 2016 as the smiling face of a wildly ambitious team.
And that remains the question facing the Vikings this week as they decide whether and when to reinstall Bridgewater as their starting quarterback.
Can Bridgewater quickly re-establish himself as the player he was before the injury — a good-not-great passer with leadership skills and short-route accuracy?
Can he quickly remind the franchise and fans that even more was expected of him in 2016, when his presence became one reason the Vikings were thought to be Super Bowl contenders?
Can he somehow, perhaps through strengthening his arm and studying like a physics major, have spent the last year becoming an even better version of his pre-surgery self?
Sam Bradford might never play again for the Vikings. Case Keenum has exceeded expectations as the Vikings’ interim starter.
Keenum’s completion percentage is at a career high and his interception rate is the second best he has posted in a season. His record as a starter in the NFL was 9-15 before this season; he is 5-2 when he plays for the Vikings.
Look past the won-loss record and what you’ll find is that Keenum has performed to a specific level. He has faced two franchise quarterbacks who are playing well in Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford. He has lost both times, with the Vikings offense looking inept.
In five games against inexperienced or struggling quarterbacks — Jameis Winston, Mitch Trubisky, Brett Hundley, Joe Flacco and DeShone Kizer — Keenum is 5-0.
In the Vikings’ next six games, they will face Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Stafford, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton and Andy Dalton. On Dec. 23, there is a slight chance they could face a recovered Aaron Rodgers.
More will be required from the Vikings quarterback over the next two months, and in the playoffs.
Which is why the Vikings are again asking, how good can Teddy be?
Even with a boost from playing in Pat Shurmur’s offense this season, Keenum’s career completion percentage is 59.7 Bridgewater’s is 64.9 after completing 65.3 percent in his one full year as a starter.
Keenum’s performance this season is similar to Bridgewater’s in 2015. What that popular piece of analysis ignores is that under Shurmur, Bradford set an NFL record for completion percentage and started the 2017 season with the best performance of his career against a Saints team that we can recognize as a stern challenge. Under Shurmur, Keenum, too, is performing at a career peak.
So the Vikings have to wonder just how good Bridgewater can be in an offense that is friendlier to quarterbacks than Norv Turner’s supposedly quarterback-friendly scheme ever was.
With Rodgers injured, the Vikings should be good enough to win the NFC North, but Keenum is not going to win a Super Bowl. The Vikings’ bosses have always thought a healthy Bridgewater, if properly supported and developed, could.
Bridgewater is expected to be moved to the active roster Wednesday. The Vikings might take the route of least resistance and start Keenum this week against Washington. At some point, Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer and Shurmur should feel obligated to play their best healthy quarterback.
How good can he be? There’s only one way to find out.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org