Vikings Quarterback Conundrum

Illustrator: Natalie Klemond

Injuries, a blockbuster trade, and a valuable free agent acquisition have shaped the Minnesota Vikings depth chart for the past two seasons.

The carousel started spinning when then-starter, and undisputed franchise cornerstone, Teddy Bridgewater, went down during practice with a gruesome leg injury in the summer of 2016. Bridgewater dislocated his knee and tore his ACL, effectively ending his season. The injury was so bad that doctors within the league speculated whether or not Teddy would ever return to the field again. After leading the team to the playoffs in the 2015-16 season, Teddy was out, and the franchise needed to react quickly.

The Bridgewater injury was obviously a devastating blow, but as cruel as it may sound, the NFL is a business and the show must go on. The Vikings acted fast and acquired Sam Bradford in a trade with the Eagles less than a week after the Bridgewater injury. In 15 starts for the Vikings during the 2016-17 season, Bradford broke the NFL record for single-season completion percentage (71.6) and broke the team record for most completions in a season (395).

Unfortunately, the good times didn’t roll for too long. Bradford was hampered by a nagging knee injury to start this season, and it was officially announced on Nov. 8 that the Vikings would place him on the injured-reserve list.

The Bradford injury forced the Vikings to name journeyman Case Keenum as its new starting quarterback. Keenum has gone 5-2 as the starter with another win coming in a relief appearance after Bradford left the game before halftime. Personally, I jumped on the Keenum bandwagon with gusto, but reports begun to surface recently that Teddy Bridgewater could play again soon. I will admit that I absolutely hate the idea of removing Keenum and replacing him with Bridgewater, who last played a game in January of 2016. Needless to say, I was absolutely elated when head coach Mike Zimmer announced that Case Keenum would remain the starter—for now.

All the recent quarterback shuffling got me thinking about the future though. What should the Vikings do moving forward into next season?

Before I look at the potential options, I want to mention that Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum will all be unrestricted free agents next season. That is important to note because if the Vikings want to proceed with any of their current quarterbacks, they will need to sign them to a new contract. Pending contracts aside, let’s take a look at the options.

Sam Bradford (Career Record: 34-45-1 | Completion %: 62.5 | Yds: 19049 | TD: 101 | Int: 57)

I once heard Bradford referred to as a driving-range quarterback—as in he can make every NFL throw perfectly in practice. Bradford is arguably the biggest name on this list, he was the first overall pick in the 2010 draft, and there is no doubt that he is wildly talented when he’s on the field. As I already mentioned, Bradford broke passing records in the 2015-16 season. He also posted career bests in completions, yards, and QBR. If the Vikings were looking for one quarterback to start one game, then I believe Bradford is their guy—but they aren’t looking for a stopgap; they need a long-term option. Yes, he may look great on paper, but there is one glaring problem: He has major injury concerns. Bradford tore the ACL in his left knee twice—once in 2013 and again in 2014. Most concerning is the fact that the knee injury forcing him onto the IR this year is in the same knee. It has even been reported that Bradford’s latest injury is “much worse than people know” and that it could even be a career-threatening injury. What Bradford did for the Vikings during the 2015-16 season was nothing short of phenomenal, but his injury history will undoubtedly make any team pause before offering him a contract.

Verdict: Let him go. His plethora of injuries combined with the ominous speculation surrounding his latest knee injury makes him too much of a risky investment for the future.

Teddy Bridgewater (Career Record: 17-11 | Completion %: 64.9 | Yds: 6150 | TD: 28 | Int: 21)

Like Bradford, Bridgewater can also be counted as an injury concern moving forward. One big difference is the number of injuries between the two—frankly, Bridgewater’s list is much shorter than Bradford’s. Bridgewater is also only 25 years old, and he was the undisputed franchise quarterback before his unfortunate knee injury. Minnesota traded up in the 2014 draft to select Bridgewater with the 32nd pick as he has long been seen as a top NFL prospect. What makes Bridgewater stand out among the current crop of Vikings quarterbacks is his ability to run the football. He racked up 401 yards on the ground and also found the end zone four times during his first two seasons. Dual-threat quarterbacks are highly valued in the league because defenses have to respect their ability to throw the ball and their ability to run it when the play breaks down. Prior to his injury, Bridgewater led the Vikings to an 11-5 record, an NFC North title, and a trip to the playoffs. Speculation regarding his career has circulated since his devastating injury, but he dressed for week 10 and played backup to Case Keenum. Now the speculation has shifted to how soon Teddy will start his comeback tour.

Verdict: His injury makes me pause, and I would be willing to bet that Minnesota’s General Manager Rick Spielman shares some of my concern. It would be foolish for the Vikings to commit the kind of money that has recently been thrown at quarterbacks like Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, or even fellow 2014 draftee Derek Carr. With that said, if Teddy is willing to take a short-term “prove it” type deal then I’d love to see him back next season.

Case Keenum (Career Record: 14-17 | Completion %: 60.1 | Yds: 7138 | TD: 35 | Int: 25)

That brings us to the incumbent, the current starter, the man that has led the team to the top of the NFC North this season. Correction from earlier: I’m not just on the Keenum bandwagon, I’m driving the thing full speed. I love a good underdog story and that could be where some of my Keenum enthusiasm stems from. He was undrafted in 2012 and eventually signed to Houston where he lost the first eight games he started. In 2015 he was traded to the Rams for a lowly 7th-round pick. After posting a .500 record for the Rams over two seasons, Keenum went into the free agency pool and eventually signed with the Vikings for a one-year contract at a paltry (by NFL standards) $2 million.

Ok, you get it—he is an unlikely hero in this narrative. But the past is the past, and right now Keenum is in the middle of the best season of his career. I have watched every game this year, and what impresses me the most is his poise out on the field. In week 10 he threw two interceptions in the second half against Washington that had the potential to rattle a lesser quarterback—instead Keenum went back out on the field and led the offense down the field for a game-clinching field goal. He finished the game with 304 yards, four touchdowns, and a quarterback rating of 117—it was a very “Rocky-esque” performance to say the least.

Verdict: Sign Keenum to a lifetime deal. I’m joking about that; well, sort of. My enthusiasm for Keenum going into the next season hinges on Teddy Bridgewater’s health and his ability to perform at the level we all saw in 2015. That puts me in a weird spot—I want Keenum to remain the starter since both he and the team are playing so well, but I also want to get a prolonged look at Bridgewater post-injury. Re-sign Keenum? Well, that depends on Teddy.

In an ideal world, Bridgewater will come back and play as well as he did before his knee injury. He’ll reclaim his spot as the franchise quarterback and lead the Vikings to glory for the next 15 years. Back in the real world, the situation remains fluid, and the starting quarterback for next year might not be named until August. Just like the last two seasons, injuries, free agency, and maybe even another trade could continue to shape Minnesota’s quarterback situation.