It was August 30th, 2016, it was a rare occasion but I found myself that day at the Minnesota State Fair rather than in Eden Prairie to observe another Minnesota Vikings preseason practice. The newly appointed head coach of the Minnesota Gophers Tracy Claeys was speaking with KFAN at the Minnesota State Fair and given the way that he had risen to that position, it was deemed that the Fair was where I needed to be and we sent someone else to Winter park.
Then I got a text.
“Something happened, they just made us leave practice.”
Unsure what this meant, I headed to Twitter. But Twitter was quiet. I immediately thought my coworker was pulling some sort of prank on us.
It wasn’t fifteen minutes later that my phone started blowing up. After a short period of time when they were being escorted out of practice, the assembled media in Eden Prairie was now pumping out news. “Teddy Bridgewater just went down with an apparent injury…looks serious” one tweet read. “Ambulance has arrived at Winter Park for injured #Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater” another post stated. It was becoming increasingly clear that this was bad, like real bad.
Mike Zimmer’s press conference that afternoon confirmed that news, Teddy had suffered a non-contact knee injury and had been whisked away to the hospital for evaluation. Not the trainers room, the hospital. But it was the tone in the coach’s voice this time around that really spoke volumes. He wasn’t the stoic, business only coach that we had come to know the past few seasons. Mike Zimmer was visibly saddened by the news of the day, like a scared father not knowing what the future might look like for his son.
But we all felt that way. Teddy was beloved in Minnesota, heck he still is. If he were to have taken the field today, announced as the starting quarterback for the Carolina Panthers with fans in the Minnesota stands, he would have received a standing ovation, no joke, you know it’s true.
But what would the Minnesota Vikings as a franchise look like today had that fateful day in 2016 never happened? If Teddy Bridgewater were still the starting quarterback in Minnesota, would the Vikings franchise be in better shape than it is now?
It’s obviously an impossible question to truly answer, but given the fake that we’re all quarantined and stuck at home, let’s talk about it anyway.
There were high hopes for Teddy heading into the 2016 NFL season. Coming off of an 11-5 season the year before where Teddy had started all 16 games, the common thought was that this was the year he was going to take the next step forward and become a more dynamic NFL quarterback. The more important thought was that the Vikings had finally answered their questions at quarterback. After years of trying to find a solution at the most important position on the field, Rick Spielman could finally turn his attention elsewhere and help round out this football team.
To say that Teddy’s injury changed the trajectory of this franchise cannot be understated. They thought they had their answer. And then, on a dime, they had to make a shift. Not only was is a shift that affected the long term viability of a team back to square one at the QB position, but the panic for the 2016 season shipped off a 1st and 4th round draft pick to the Eagles for Sam Bradford who turned out to be a one year rent-a-player leading the Vikings to a 7-8 record.
Just think of the things that Teddy was about to be afforded had he stayed healthy…
He never really got to play with the vaunted Mike Zimmer defenses. Zim’s unit was just coming into form during that 2016 season after two years of implementing his system and drafting players to fit it. Danielle Hunter, Eric Kendricks and Trae Waynes were still struggling through rookie growing pains. It’s safe to say that the best years of Zim’s Vikings defense were right around the corner.
The same could be said for that Vikings offense as well. While Adrian Peterson was reaching the twilight of his time with the Vikings, there was a plethora of impressive pieces right around the corner with more coming behind that. At the time, Stefon Diggs was no more than a promising rookie receiver coming off of a 700+ yard, 4 touchdown rookie campaign. They had just drafted a first round wide receiver to add to the arsenal and Adam Thielen had barely been promoted off of the practice squad and had tallied one career touchdown to date. Dalvin Cook was still playing college football at Florida State and Justin Jefferson was still playing high school football in Louisiana. Even if Treadwell hadn’t panned out in this alternate universe, Teddy would have dominated with Diggs, Thielen, Cook and potentially Jefferson.
That’s the kind of offense that you can build a team around and paired up with the oncoming Vikings defense, this team would have been something to reckon with from 2016 straight through the 2019 season.
We all saw the kind of trouble that the Vikings found themselves in with some of those expiring contracts heading into the 2020 season and though some of that would have been unavoidable, the team wouldn’t have had to pay Bridgewater $26 million in 2018, $28 million in 2019 and $30 million in 2020 like they did for Kirk. In this world, Teddy panned out so he wouldn’t be at the level of a rookie contract at all, but it also wouldn’t have been top-flight free agent money leaving the team with more room to maybe add a some veteran offensive lineman up front and maybe keep a Trae Waynes on the back end of the defense.
I’m not going to lie, dreaming of what could have been has me a bit envious of the way that this make-believe Vikings team is coming together.
Clearly, I’m only building this roster from the optimistic point of view. No injuries have factored in, I’m operating under the assumption that Diggs’ ego didn’t get in the way and also that Teddy’s progression continued an upward trend. It’s possible that none of those things would have panned out, but man, what if.
Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. If Teddy had stayed healthy, the Minneapolis Miracle wouldn’t be a thing, and that was pretty cool. We wouldn’t have had the excitement surrounding signing the top quarterback in free agency in 2018, but that’s becoming increasingly less cool nowadays. And we wouldn’t hate Philadelphia and their fans as much as we do today, though I’m indifferent on this one.
Now back to the question of the day, would the Vikings have been in a BETTER position today if Teddy’s injury hadn’t occurred? It’s become increasingly difficult for me to argue against it. Again, perfect optimistic view point, but the trends on both sides of the football would have met their peak in about the 2018 season; the team would likely be operating from a more healthy standpoint on the salary cap side of things; and they’d likely have made some sort of decent playoff run in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. On top of all of that, they wouldn’t be questioning a rebuild in 2020? They may not be operating at the peak of which they had in 2018 or so, but they would be in a good spot, good enough to keep pushing forward rather than moving back and starting over.
As much as it hurts to say, it’s tough to argue that the Vikings wouldn’t be in a better position if Teddy had stayed healthy.