Former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater incurred a true-blue mediocre year in 2020. Per Pro Football Focus, he was the NFL’s 29th-best quarterback. Via QBR, Bridgewater checked in as the league’s 17th-ranked passer. And on passer rating, he placed at No. 22 in rankings.
Those rankings collectively anoint Bridgewater as the league’s 22nd or 23rd-best quarterback. That is probably not effective enough to warrant another audition as a team’s clear-cut franchise quarterback of the future. Players encounter mediocre or down seasons, but Bridgewater has never had an ultra-productive campaign. Bridgewater displays clutch, winning qualities in spots – like 2015 in Minnesota or 2019 with New Orleans – but he is not a prototypical franchise stalwart when the numbers tell the story.
Contractually, Bridgewater is compensated right between bookends of “franchise quarterback” and “patch over to the new guy.” He receives $21 million per season in Carolina – which is not chump change. Yet, a standard-bearer like Patrick Mahomes earns more than double Bridgewater.
The Louisville alumnus has a purgatory contract – which fairly describes his recent performance.
So, what’s next?
Least Likely: Undisputed Starter in 2021
Bridgewater tossed 15 touchdowns in 15 games in 2020 en route to a team record of 5-11. That is a one-way ticket to career uncertainty for a starting quarterback. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins threw 35 touchdowns, and many Minnesotans felt that number was pedestrian. Bridgewater’s total likely would have propelled the Vikings to a record closer to 2-14 than 7-9.
Raw production notwithstanding, Bridgewater is a longshot to enter 2021 as “the guy” for Carolina this September. The team fired general manager Marty Hurney in December and added Scott Fitterer from the Seattle Seahawks. What does one do when a franchise finishes a season at 5-11, cans the general manager, and brings aboard a new pair of eyes? He sanitizes.
The 28-year-old Bridgewater threw fewer touchdown passes in 15 games than Mitchell Trubisky did in 10 games. A new general manager will not marry his new legacy to that indicative statline in an unadulterated sense. The likelihood of Bridgewater as unquestioned QB1 in 2021 is puny.
Middle Likelihood: A Trade Elsewhere
Carolina Panthers included, a handful of teams will seek a bridge-over quarterback in 2021 as the organization quickly grooms a young signal-caller. Think New England Patriots or Indianapolis Colts if those franchises pluck a rookie quarterback from the 2021 NFL Draft.
In that realm, Bridgewater can be trade bait as soon as right now. Carolina reportedly tried to pry Matthew Stafford away from Detroit, but the Los Angeles Rams were victorious in that endeavor. Bridgewater’s contract is challenging for Carolina as he cannot be responsibly divorced until this time next year. For the Panthers sake – if they wish to be done with Bridgewater – the most sensible option is to trade the former Viking.
The recipient in the hypothetical deal could then attempt to rejuvenate Bridgewater or start him until their young quarterback is ready to take the reins. This happens all of the time. Alex Smith into Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City. Joe Flacco into Drew Lock in Denver. Tyrod Taylor into Justin Herbert in Los Angeles.
Bridgewater – with his current level of performance – is tailor-made for this role.
Most Likely: Outstanding Backup and Patch-Over Guy
But the Panthers may not easily find a suitor for their dream scenario. Bridgewater’s cap hit in 2021 is about $23 million – with roughly 87% of that figure dead cap money. In a way, a trade partner would effectively do the Panthers “a favor” by swallowing Bridgewater’s 2021 earnings.
It remains to be seen if any franchise will actually do that.
One more year in Carolina is the most likely outcome. The Panthers will probably draft a quarterback like Mac Jones or Trey Lance, and Bridgewater’s personality is well-known for cordiality and sportsmanship. He may begin the season with Panthers as QB1 and hand off the enterprise to Unnamed Rookie QB1 when the time is appropriate.
Then, Carolina owns one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL, albeit an expensive one. The Panthers can conclude their relationship with Bridgewater in 2022 for a smaller $5 million dead cap hit. So, Bridgewater on roster for 2020 is not a bane on the organization, but he is unlikely to be defined as the long-term leader.
Maybe he’ll even back up Kirk Cousins for cheap someday in Minnesota.