Written By Zone Coverage Staff (ZoneCoverage.com)
Photo Credit: Kyle Hansen
The wounds haven’t even scabbed over from Sunday’s drubbing at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, but for Minnesota Vikings fans and writers, it’s already time to start planning for next season.
One of, if not the biggest question that’ll need to be answered between now and opening night is who’ll be under center for the Vikings on opening night 2018. There’s no shortage of opinions out there, but the reality is that nobody really knows much about the situation outside of Rick Spielman, Mike Zimmer and their trusted allies within the organization.
So we’ve put together our own brain trust at Zone Coverage to examine and analyze the situation, and see what we think puts the Vikings in the best position to contend again next season.
With that said, moderator Brandon Warne gets us underway —
Brandon Warne: I think Sunday night typified the difficult situation surrounding the Vikings and Case Keenum. Even despite the fact that he didn’t have any help, he showed all the reasons why a team would be hesitant to pay up for him long term. With that said, there are teams in much worse spots QB-wise than the Vikings who would pay him more — and he should absolutely chase the paper.
And with that said, if the Vikings are wary about giving Keenum say….a three-year deal, they’re probably not super keen on giving him a one-year franchise-tag deal worth what’s in the neighborhood of what, $24 million next season?
Basically, I think the Vikings don’t want to be married to Keenum, but there’s no way he’s taking a short deal with this being his last/only time to cash in.
They could take that out of his hands with the franchise tag, but I just don’t see that happening. I think the Vikings find a way to make things work with Teddy Bridgewater, bring back Kyle Sloter and possibly draft a quarterback as a developmental third (I like Chase Litton from Marshall), or they spend some of the money they save on the Case (minus) Teddy salary differential and bring in someone who nobody will let start, but wants a little more than backup coin (Chase Daniel?).
Arif Hasan: The new QB deals have pushed up the franchise tag to possibly be $24 million — and, regardless, would be between $21-25 million — and I think that’s a problem for a team that wants to sign Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Trae Waynes, Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter (all free agents in 2019) to long-term deals very soon.
Though the Vikings are projected to have $57 million in cap space — in part because Sam Bradford will be off the books — and don’t have a ton of 2018 free agents that are high-priority types. Players like Nick Easton, Anthony Harris, Marcus Sherels and Jeremiah Sirles who will be a focus, but won’t consume a lot of cap. Terence Newman and Joe Berger may retire, and who knows what will happen with Tom Johnson. So the cap room situation isn’t awful, but franchising restricts the Vikings’ capability to make long-term deals soon.
I like having four quarterbacks in camp. Keep Teddy Bridgewater, but acknowledge that his future is incredibly uncertain. He wouldn’t fetch more than $7 million on an open market, something I’ve confirmed with a few people here at the Senior Bowl, and they can bring in a veteran backup to compete with him. I don’t hate the idea of Josh McCown, Chad Henne, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Derek Anderson, Chase Daniel or Matt Moore as veteran backups in that situation.
At the same time, spend a mid-round draft pick on a player like Mike White, Kurt Benkert or Luke Falk. Those players have the upside to develop into a starting quarterback — along with Chase Litton, Kyle Lauletta or Logan Woodside — to compete with Kyle Sloter for a developmental job and/or be a surprising option more immediately. Honestly, the money situation for franchising Keenum isn’t awful, it just creates inflexibility and encourages 2019 free agents to potentially hit the market because deals can’t be made that cash out soon.
Sam Ekstrom: Fans will likely have to accept a reality where only one of the Vikings’ three quarterbacks is back on the roster next year.
Bringing back both Keenum and Bridgewater would likely be too costly and too controversial to sustain. It’s easier to deal with a quarterback carousel when you fall into it accidentally, as the Vikings did this year — but not when you intentionally seek it out. Additionally, Bridgewater and Keenum have both made around $7 million in their careers. That’s outstanding money for the layperson, but in football terms, they will both want bigger paydays, and a bigger payout would certainly come in conjunction with a greater likelihood of starting.
As Arif mentioned, Bridgewater will command less than Keenum, which certainly makes him a better value, considering he is nearly five years younger and previously demonstrated the ability to have success in the league, even before truly blossoming as a quarterback.
With Keenum, you’re buying high on a quarterback that just had an anomaly of a season. That doesn’t mean it was a fluke, but rather that there’s no proof of it being sustainable. Unemotionally speaking, re-signing Keenum would feel like a bad investment, but it becomes tempting, not only because of his great intangibles like durability, pocket presence and command, but because of the risk involved with entrusting a big role to Bridgewater or Bradford — Bridgewater more so because of his long layoff, Bradford because of his injury history.
We also can’t forget the question of a new offensive coordinator. If the Vikings bring in somebody from outside the organization, they will certainly have an opinion on which passer to retain.
In summary, it would easy to get on board with Bridgewater as starter because everybody in Minnesota loves him and you probably wouldn’t cringe at his contract, but the Vikings will need to due their diligence in finding a competent veteran backup.
Finally, instead of drafting another QB I’d put greater efforts into developing Kyle Sloter, who may have as bright a future as any mid-round draftee.
It won’t take too long to learn the Vikings’ path. The franchise tag deadline is in five weeks if they intend to retain Keenum.
B.J. Reidell: Vikings fans are well-equipped to handle this quarterback controversy. The position has been an issue in Minnesota essentially Daunte Culpepper went down with a knee injury with exception to Brett Favre’s miraculous 2009 season.
The difference here is that the Vikings quite possibly have four plausible quarterbacks of the future on their roster right now. Now, this does not mean that all four are capable of taking this team to the Super Bowl.
It is quite possible that Case Keenum peaked this year, and the player he truly is showed up against the Philadelphia Eagles this past Sunday. That said, his two postseason performances represent polar opposites from a clutch standpoint, so it’s not completely absurd to be hopeful that the best is still to come.
Teddy Bridgewater is likely the greatest mystery here, and it will be extremely interesting to see how the Vikings manage his situation. He has shown a capacity for greatness, but wondering whether his knee is back to full strength yet remains a fair concern having only attempted two passes in 2017 as a result of Keenum’s completely unprecedented run of success.
That leaves Sam Bradford and Kyle Sloter, which, ultimately, appear to be the two least valuable assets at the position right now. This could change quickly, however, depending on who the Vikings choose to replace offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur with.
Keeping an eye on Mike McCoy’s status is interesting, as he most recently worked with Sloter in Denver — months before the Vikings gave the soon-to-be second-year quarterback and boatload of cash to snake him from the Broncos. Bradford, while very likely the most naturally talented of the bunch, is probably the least valuable to the Vikings long-term. His mobility is an issue at this point in his career, understandably so, and that could make him the odd man out if Minnesota elects to continue running a similar West Coast style offense under, for example, quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski.
Simply put, it’s a relatively fluid situation until the Vikings name a new offensive coordinator, and making a snap decision right now would not appear to be in the best interest of this team.
Bringing back Keenum and Bridgewater on prove-it deals and allowing the pair of signal-callers to compete for the starting job this upcoming summer at training camp is likely the best-case scenario (no pun intended).
But, as Minnesotans painfully learned once again this past weekend, the ideal scenario is not always the most likely one.
Brandon: The people who are in Teddy Bridgewater’s corner seem to almost romanticize what he brings to the table. What is it about him that you see that suggests he either is, could be or is not the guy moving forward?
For me, I saw a skill set that bordered on intangible — like an “it” factor, I guess? — and he was also super young while developing at the game’s highest level with bad receivers.
He’s also an A+ guy character-wise, and so it’s hard not to root for a guy who has been through so much personally and professionally with a level head, good decision-making skills and at least from what we’ve seen, is good under pressure.
Arif: I think it’s important to be open to the possibility that he may not be an NFL quarterback anymore. His injury is unprecedented and we’ve seen nothing to indicate that he’s in any sort of playing form. That’s why it’s important to bring insurance in for Teddy while still allowing him the chance to compete. Still, he’s a high-character guy with a ton of accuracy and ability to perform under pressure, and it’s good to give that a chance to shine.
Brandon: I think it’s also important to note that the Vikings know way more about this than we possibly could.
Arif: He showed phenomenal upside when last played in the regular season and even more in the 2016 preseason, resolving his biggest knock: his deep ball. He’s young and showed incredible quarterback traits when he played, and the Vikings could keep him cheaply. That’s well worth it.
BJ: There certainly is something different about Teddy Bridgewater, but the sentiment is not necessarily easy to put into words.
His off-field work in multiple communities and genuine personality make him extremely attractive from an intangible standpoint, but, as Arif alluded to, it remains entirely possible that he is no longer the same player that showed promise during his second season.
The reality here is that Bridgewater is going to get a chance to test his durability at some point in his career, but the hard truth is that it may not be in Minnesota. And if his goal is to be a starting quarterback in the NFL again — as it should be — the Vikings may no longer be the ideal team for him anymore.
Sam: I think Teddy possesses many of Case’s same qualities: mobility, leadership, accuracy and great instincts on third down. He also lacks great arm strength, although he may actually have more to offer than Case in that regard after bulking up the past couple years.
If the old Bridgewater resurfaced, the Vikings could follow a similar formula to this season, as long as their defense remained stout.
But would the old Bridgewater resurface after missing 2.5 years of meaningful games? That rust may take a while to shake off. That being said, there are many stories of backups around the league who bounce around without playing meaningful reps for years, only to emerge when given the chance, so Bridgewater shouldn’t be overlooked just because of his time away from the field.
Mike Zimmer said Tuesday that only half the players in various sports who suffered Bridgewater’s injury ever returned, and the ones that did took at least 24 months. Bridgewater was ready in almost half that time, which should be a huge indicator that he’s responded tremendously to an injury that ends many careers.
Brandon: What is the length you’re willing to go to in order to keep the following guys (would you tag any of them franchise/transition)?
- Bridgewater – one-year, heavily incentivized with solid base salary like $7-8 mill
- Bradford – One-year, $15 million with second-year team option somewhere in the low-$20 million range.
- Keenum – Let him get some offers and report back. If the market is inexplicably soft — which doesn’t seem terribly likely, but it’s possible — then re-evaluate.
- Bridgewater: One-year, incentive-laden contract with $5 million in guarantees and up to $12 million with escalators.
- Bradford: One-year, incentive-laden contract with $7 million in guarantees and up to $18 million with escalators.
- Keenum: Three-year, incentive-laden contract with $20 million in guarantees and up to $48 million with escalators.
Arif: These QBs going to be happy without guarantees? Can’t make every contract offer incentive laden.
BJ: Why not? Kyle Sloter is under contract, and the Vikings have the resources to bring in a rookie quarterback that best fits the new offensive coordinator’s system, no?
Arif: QBs have leverage, even (especially?) when leaving. Yeah, the Vikings could draft a guy, but the market’s always looking for QBs and very few don’t get a good chunk guaranteed. Also, I don’t think Sloter represents leverage. He’s not very likely to start or even be the first backup.
BJ: That’s fair.
- I’d give Bridgewater two years, $14 million guaranteed. If he turns into your starter the second year is a bargain and you can get something negotiated long-term if you want before Season 2.
- On Bradford, I’d agree with Brandon — a one-year deal around $15-17 million. A team option is not a bad idea either.
- Keenum would probably need at least three years, $30 million guaranteed if Mike Glennon got $18.5 million last year. Just put most of it up front and it would be a franchise tag only with a little security.
- Teddy is someone I would feel comfortable giving up to $8 million for one year with a team option for a second year, but could see getting $5 million.
- For Keenum, I could be comfortable giving $16-17 million, but he’ll likely get much more in free agency with a longer deal. Let him test the market and pull out if it heats up too much.
- Bradford is too risky to sign and take up a valuable roster spot. He may be the best pure talent on the roster at QB but the Vikings didn’t keep Jake Long around for a reason.
Brandon: OK, so finally what do you guys think will actually happen? You know I’m still all-in on Teddy, would have Sloter in the mix of course and either sign a guy like Chase Daniel or draft a guy like Chase Litton. I think you could get Daniel to jump from New Orleans because if he doesn’t find a starting job, backing up a guy coming off a serious injury might be the next best thing.
Arif: I think the Vikings will keep Bridgewater and sign a veteran.
Sam: Personally, I’d endorse rolling the dice on Bridgewater, but I think they go Keenum. The team may see his durability as an assurance that they can expect a certain baseline level of performance. Plus, if they hire Darrell Bevell as OC, he’ll know exactly how to operate with a mobile, undersized QB (mostly joking).
BJ: It’s tough to judge how the Vikings will handle this situation moving forward. As previously noted, the quarterback situation in Minnesota has seemingly always presented an issue for this team. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic, however, and that starts with Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum. Mike Zimmer has been finding ways to improve this team since he arrived in 2014, and Vikings fans should trust him to do it again this offseason.