[Editor's note: It has now been reported that Teddy Bridgewater suffered a dislocated knee and torn ACL in Tuesday's practice. The timetable for his recovery and return is expected to be “significant.”]
Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down Tuesday in practice with a “significant knee injury,” and with him, likely any hope of the Vikings being Super Bowl contenders.
The cliché surrounding the Vikings this season—with an elite defense and a clear ability to run the ball via Adrian Peterson—is that they would go as far as Bridgewater would take them, and that statement may prove to be truer than ever if they are forced to turn to his replacements.
Shaun Hill is the primary backup, and is old enough to have NFL Europe experience under his belt—a league that ceased play almost a decade ago. Hill, to his credit, was once legitimately one of the best backup quarterbacks in the league. Back in 2010, he started 10 games for the Lions, completed 61.8 percent of his passes, and consistently graded well. In the five seasons since then, however, he has played a total of 540 snaps, grading poorly in 2014 in his only extended action, and is now 36 years old.
This preseason, he has attempted 25 passes against backups primarily, completing 17 of them (68.0 percent) for 192 yards without scoring a passing touchdown (though he did throw a pass this week that resulted in a fumble recovered for a score, and then threw a pass for the successful two-point conversion).
The tape shows Hill’s arm is now marginal, at best. Even in his prime, he never had a cannon, but age has taken its toll, and he has late-era Peyton Manning style limitations when it comes to putting the ball into tight windows. Like Manning, to have any success, Hill would need to be a step ahead when it comes to anticipation and reading a defense. Even at his best, Hill was never in Manning’s league in that regard, as most players aren’t, and so the effect of diminished arm strength is a greater problem than it was for Manning.
In 2014, Hill completed only 47.8 percent of his passes when pressured for a passer rating of 65.1. The average NFL QB is pressured on 33.6 percent of their dropbacks, and Bridgewater in 2015 led the league with pressure on 46.8 percent of his. The Vikings hope to have shored up their pass protection with their O-line moves, but the offense they run is going to cause pressure, and a QB that can’t excel in the face of it is going to sink.
The bottom line is that the Vikings, even leaning on Adrian Peterson like never before, aren’t playoff bound with Shaun Hill under center—but there also aren’t a lot of great alternative options readily presenting themselves.
Taylor Heinicke has been in a walking boot for the entirety of camp since tearing a tendon in his ankle, and the only other quarterback on the roster is Joel Stave, an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin. Stave actually graded relatively well in his final season at Wisconsin—posting a better mark than Cowboys preseason superstar Dak Prescott—but he hasn’t had nearly the same immediate success in the NFL, and has yet to record an above-average preseason outing.
Whatever his long-term prospects, it seems likely we would need to see another injury—or catastrophic run of play from Hill—for the Vikings to consider throwing Stave into the game with the first team.
Outside of in-house options, the Vikings are down to panic-buying in the free-agent or trade market. There are few attractive options out there, with players like Josh McCown an all-too similar prospect to Hill. Broncos QB Mark Sanchez may be available, and has at least been deep into the playoffs in the past, but he just lost a three-way QB battle to a player that hasn’t thrown an NFL regular-season pass and a rookie, and wasn’t even able to look good within Chip Kelly’s offense, which has inflated almost every QB’s numbers.
Maybe Mike Glennon could be moved from Tampa Bay, but likely not without significant trade collateral heading in the other direction; plus, Glennon is far from a sure thing, and is more so a young player that has flashed ability in the past. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick may well become available, and would be intriguing within this offense that likes to attack deep and could benefit from a QB willing, if not eager, to take off and make things happen when his first read isn’t open. Norv Turner’s offense has always looked a little better when he feels he needs to prop up a flawed quarterback, and Kaepernick would fit that profile, but he now comes with a weight of baggage after his national anthem protest, and has an awful lot of bad tape on his résumé.
The bottom line here is that teams don’t find Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks at the end of August without getting staggeringly lucky. The Vikings were gearing up to chase a ring, and were relying on Teddy Bridgewater improving to make it happen. Without him in the line-up—if he is forced to miss significant time—that just became a pipe dream, and the best they can likely hope for is a strong chase for the playoffs, only to be unceremoniously dumped from the postseason once the big teams start to play for real in January.