Teddy Bridgewater’s separated left knee opened the door for Sam Bradford’s arrival in Minnesota 14 months ago. But on Wednesday, it was Bridgewater taking snaps for the Vikings while Bradford was placed on injured reserve as he recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Activated to the 53-man roster, Bridgewater has taken Bradford’s place. Caution has dictated every step along the way for Bridgewater, who tore multiple ligaments and dislocated his knee last summer. His return to the field will be no different.
So he enters Sunday’s game in Washington as the backup to starter Case Keenum.
Asked if Bridgewater is ready to play, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s response was direct: “Yes.”
Less certain is the health and long-term outlook of Bradford, who will become a free agent in March. Zimmer said the issue with Bradford’s left knee joint is not bone-on-bone, so there were “a lot of good things” learned during Tuesday’s procedure by Dr. James Andrews. Still, neither the Vikings nor Bradford know when he’ll be healthy enough to play again — or if it will be for the Vikings.
“I don’t know,” Zimmer said. “I have an outstanding relationship with Sam. He is a great person, heck of a quarterback. We don’t know where he’s at with his knee. I haven’t talked to him about anything next year. We’re just thinking about this year.”
Bradford has to sit out a minimum of eight weeks and can technically return for the playoffs, but the Vikings are not planning on it. That puts Bridgewater one snap away from playing, just over a year since they sent a 2017 first-round pick and 2018 fourth-round pick to Philadelphia for Bradford. So with a Keenum-Bridgewater pecking order, the Vikings will likely deactivate Kyle Sloter in Washington, says Zimmer.
The Vikings, 5-2 under Keenum and 6-2 overall, aren’t yet ready to start Bridgewater.
“We’ve done it week by week the last couple weeks, and it’s seemed to work OK,” Keenum said. “If I can keep my mind-set the same and stay consistent in how I prepare [and] if I cannot read your guys’ stories and stay off different things, then I’m good.”
Bradford cannot say the same.
His season derailed during the best game of his career in Week 1 vs. New Orleans. when he passed for 346 yards and was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week. He twisted his knee sometime in that game, aggravating his knee joint. The Vikings maintained that they did not realize Bradford’s injury was long-term. Zimmer conceded that “it just didn’t get better.”
After five limited practices, Bradford paid another visit to Andrews in Florida on Sept. 22. Then 17 days later, after two limited practices and one full practice, the Vikings started Bradford in Chicago where he looked uncomfortable and, eventually, unfit to play and was pulled.
Bradford made more trips for more treatments in recent weeks to no avail.
“[The injury] was just lingering,” Zimmer said. “We thought it was going to be a one-week deal, then it was two, then it was three and then it was eight. Nothing else was working. We had to try something.”
Bradford’s regular season, and potentially his time in Minnesota, could now be over.
With three quarterbacks — Bradford, Bridgewater and Keenum — set to be free agents in 2018, the situation long-term remains tenuous. The Vikings, leading the NFC North with Keenum at the helm of the offense and a defense dominating opponents, are focused on the now.
Bridgewater is assimilating into an offense that has changed drastically since he last took an NFL game snap. He’s been limited to a handful of 11-on-11 snaps during practices to get timing down with teammates on plays installed under coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Bridgewater opened Wednesday’s practice by taking snaps from the Vikings’ starting center, Pat Elflein, during quarterback drills. A quarterback’s rhythm starts with the center, who needs to be familiar with Bridgewater’s barks in his cadence. So Elflein is the first lineman who needs to adjust.
“Teddy’s got a good hard count,” Elflein said Wednesday. “Real loud and distinct. He’s tricky, but he gets guys offsides.”
A supportive brace wraps around Bridgewater’s left knee joint during practices, serving as a reminder about how far Bridgewater has come since he suffered his catastrophic injury during a routine dropback last summer. He still has progress to make before the Vikings start him again.
“He hasn’t had training camp. He hasn’t done anything,” Zimmer said. “We’re just trying to get him to where everybody feels comfortable with him.”