Policy Changes Highlight Nature of Vikings Injuries

Open Twitter, read the local paper, or visit Vikings Territory, and you’re sure to see something on Teddy Bridgewater’s shoulder. It’s dominating the headlines, and for good reason; the Minnesota Vikings’ hopes rest on the very shoulder keeping Bridgewater from the field.

The drama started with Zimmer’s sudden decision to keep Bridgewater out of Thursday night’s game. It snowballed at the podium, where Zimmer reiterated his confidence in the young quarterback’s health. And the situation exploded into a full-blown avalanche late Friday, when Ben Goessling reported that Bridgewater missed the game with a sore shoulder.

Now, the Vikings are without Bridgewater, and have been since Saturday. The third-year quarterback hasn’t thrown a pass since practice last week, leaving first-team duties to a pair of reserves. In another surprising move, Zimmer moved Tuesday’s off day to Monday, perpetuating the idea that Bridgewater’s injury is more serious than first reported.

Until Bridgewater begins throwing, the world won’t know what’s wrong with the quarterback. He may be fine, or, he may be suffering something similar to Colin Kaepernick’s “dead arm” in San Francisco. Injury reports aren’t required until the regular season begins, but the NFL’s recent policy update suggests Zimmer’s handling of the situation flies in the face of the league’s new standards.

In early June, the NFL’s competition committee approved changes to its injury report policy, which were confirmed on Sunday evening. According to USA Today’s Tom Pelissero, the most notable is the removal of the “Probable” designation from injury reports. In previous years, players with “virtual certainty” of suiting up were listed as “Probable,” and those with a 50 percent chance of playing were listed as “Questionable.”

The change, which goes into affect this season, requires players with any question of availability to be listed as “Questionable.” However, if a player is certain to play and is removed from the list, the league requires a written explanation from the team. And if a player is removed from the list but deactivated before the game begins, the club is subject to discipline from the NFL, per Pelissero.

Starting Week 1, injury reports will include the following designations:

  • Questionable — Uncertain as to whether the player will play in the game
  • Doubtful — Unlikely the player will participate
  • Out — Will not play

Leading up to the game, Bridgewater had taken all of the offense’s practice reps and would’ve been considered a “Full Participant.” Thus, he was the probable starter against the Seattle Seahawks and even warmed up with the team on Thursday night.

On the outside looking in, there was no question around Bridgewater’s status for the game; he was going to start and build on his strong outing against the Cincinnati Bengals. Bridgewater’s name wouldn’t have been on an injury report, as all signs throughout the week pointed to the quarterback playing in Seattle. A “coach’s decision” prevented that from happening, though, creating confusion among media members who’d heard no mention of an injury.

If this were the regular season, Zimmer’s rash decision as it stands would’ve gone against the league’s policies. He claimed on Saturday that Bridgewater would’ve played if it were a regular season game, and if that were the case, Bridgewater would’ve been listed as “questionable” under the new rules.

The quarterback’s deactivation wouldn’t have come as a surprise, as his shoulder injury would’ve appeared on the injury report. And while it’s not the regular season and these rules are simply hypotheticals at the moment, they punctuate Zimmer’s odd handling of a relatively simple situation.

Maybe Zimmer was looking for a competitive advantage; maybe he was trying to test his backup quarterbacks; maybe Bridgewater is truly hurt and should’ve been on the inactives list before kickoff. Whatever the case, Zimmer caused unnecessary confusion and speculation around his starting quarterback. Hopefully, the policy changes create more transparency in the process and eliminate loopholes in the system.

However, as Pelissero points out, the policy changes will only result in more players being listed as “Questionable.” Even before the adjustments, the New England Patriots took advantage of the policy’s language; 14 players on New England’s final injury report of 2015 were listed as “questionable.” Many of those players, including Tom Brady, were always going to play — Bill Belichick was simply trying to gain an upper hand on opposing coaches.

Even before the regular season begins, Zimmer appears to be taking a page out of the Belichick playbook and testing his control of what stays or gets out of the building. He claimed Bridgewater’s health to be a non-issue, and at halftime, the quarterback concurred. Goessling’s report refuted that claim, and since that night, the whispers around Bridgewater’s health are only growing louder with each missed practice and non-throw.

A simple line on the team’s pre-game inactives report would’ve eliminated any of this chatter.