When the New Orleans Saints take the field tomorrow afternoon in their 2018 NFL Regular Season Opener at the Mercede-Benz Superdome against the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a new player will be in uniform on the team's sideline wearing jersey #5 as one of the two backup quarterbacks behind starter Drew Brees.
That player of course is former University of Louisville star and Minnesota Vikings starting QB Teddy Bridgewater; whom New Orleans gave the New York Jets a 3rd Round pick in next year's 2019 NFL Draft, in exchange for the 25-year old QB and a 6th Round pick — which seemingly would suggest that Saints team brass are committed to him beyond this season.
But — Bridgewater is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent once again next March; meaning that if he and Saints team brass aren't able to work out a long-term deal, then the Saints could find themselves stuck right back in the same situation they were in before the trade.
However, it should also be pointed out that Bridgewater is likely well aware that playing with the Saints and having Sean Payton as his head coach (and getting to learn behind Brees for at least 2 more years) is too good of a situation to pass up.
If the two sides aren't able to reach an agreement by March, Saints front office brass would likely have to use the franchise tag on him, since they wouldn’t want him to hit 2019 NFL Free Agency.
Nevertheless, trading only a 3rd-round pick for a potential franchise quarterback is a very small price to pay.
The Saints front office have now put themselves in a much better spot than they were prior to the Bridgewater trade, when they almost were forced to use Tom Savage as Brees' back-up this year.
But now even if the unthinkable were to happen and Brees were to get hurt (God forbid), they can put Bridgewater in and still feel confident that their season isn’t completely lost.
Which is just one of many reasons why the trade for Bridgewater was a very shrewd move on the part of the Saints front office. Bridgewater seemingly is the "perfect match" for the Sean Payton offensive scheme, and having him behind Brees might just qualify the Saints of all teams, as now having the best current back-up quarterback situation in the NFL.
But of course, not all 'Who Dats' are convinced that even if he stays, that he'll become the eventual "replacement" as the new Saints starting QB, once Brees retires.
The two biggest concerns (and misconceptions) about Bridgewater for those Saints fans are that he isn't a good passer; and that he had a devastating injury to his knee that he might not ever fully recover from, neither of which are true.
So......just what exactly is the truth?
Bridgewater was one of the young, up-and-coming QB's in the NFL before his gruesome knee injury that kept him sidelined from football for over a year.
In his last full season as a starting NFL QB, Bridgewater led the Vikings to a NFC Central division title with an (11-5) record. And while his stats weren’t all that impressive (3231 passing yards, 17 total touchdowns, 9 interceptions), he showed flashes of what he could do as he continued to get more experience and exposure at the professional level.
But make no mistake: Bridgewater can "sling the rock".
New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill says that when you turn on Bridgewater’s film, and you see traits that make him a natural fit (or if you prefer: the "perfect match") for the Saints offense.
Underhill says that while there are things the coaching staff would tailor to better suit Bridgewater if he were to start a game, the same as they would for any quarterback, but he’s clearly a more natural fit than someone like 3rd string back-up QB Taysom Hill.
And as Underhill notes: Bridgewater looks comfortable in the pocket, gets the ball out quickly and throws with accuracy — all of which are hallmarks of Brees’ game.
“Good decisions, accurate, smart, can move, can make the first guy miss, he’s a winner, he won in college, he’s won in the NFL,” Payton said to Underhill and the rest of Saints media last week. “I’ll stop there.”
Saints 3rd year defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins — who was Bridgewater's teammate in college at Louisville —agrees with that assessment,
"Accuracy's Teddy's thing, being able to put the ball in a place where only his receiver can go get it. I think from that standpoint he fits right in,” Rankins said.
“Drew's masterful when it comes to that. Drew's ability to see the whole field, I think Teddy does that extremely well, and obviously, Teddy has that extra dimension of when things break down, being able to make something out of nothing and give the offense that extra boost."
So if that's the case, why do some Saints fans still think that he isn't a good passer?
A lot of the misconceptions surrounding Bridgewater's capabilities as a pure "pocket passer" among NFL fans that closely follow the sport, stem all the way back to his rookie season in 2014; when Bridgewater was surrounded by a very underwhelming supporting cast during that season, including an offensive line that allowed the 9th most sacks in the league.
In a nutshell: the lack of available weapons and poor O-Line play were part of the reason Bridgewater didn’t have "mind-blowing" numbers. USA TODAY NFL writer / analyst Steven Ruiz went into more detail as to why Bridgewater’s stats didn’t look more impressive that year, and he notes Bridgewater’s poise in the pocket and accuracy are the reasons why he thinks Bridgewater is going to be a stud in this league.
And what about the injury concerns, which honestly seem pretty valid to most Saints fans?
Despite passing his physical exam and evaluation with the Saints Medical Staff, there are a sizable portion of Saints fans who remain unconvinced that Bridgewater's injury will allow him to be the same type of player that he was prior to getting hurt.
Bridgewater's only 2 years removed from that gruesome injury at the end of the 2016 NFL Pre-Season with Minnesota, when he suffered a dislocated knee and a torn ACL after he went down during a non-contact drill at practice that nearly ended up costing him to lose his entire leg, because of the severe damage to the arteries.
The worst case in an injury like the one that Bridgewater had is known as “arterial strangulation,” which would cut off blood flow to the leg and possibly require amputation.
But even though Bridgewater had been out of football since 2016, he showed in the recently-completed 2018 NFL Pre-Season that he can still be a very effective quarterback when given the opportunity.
Clearly his recent Pre-Season performance for the Jets was confirmation that he is fully healed, which was why New York began considering trade offers from interested teams, for his services.
In three appearances with the Jets this preseason, Bridgewater was 28-for-38 for 316 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 1 interception. He also posted the 4th highest Pro Football Focus passing grade among qualifying quarterbacks.
Additionally, Bridgewater was incredible when facing pressure. According to PFF, he completed 8-of-9 passes under pressure and the only incompletion was a drop.
Now of course, he was able to put up those numbers against 2nd and 3rd string defensive players, but it was enough of a small sample to demonstrate that the knee appears to be near 100% fully healed.
One thing to also keep in mind about Bridgewater: his undeniable mental toughness.
It's the same mental toughness that's allowed him to overcome such a devastating injury, and it's the same toughness that allowed him to become a high school football legend in the state of Florida.
Bridgewater took Miami Northwestern High School, a legendary program in the "Sunshine State", to the Florida state high school football Class 4-A semifinals.
As noted by New Orleans Advocate beat writer Joel A. Erickson, Bridgewater was a 4-star prospect who was ranked the No. 2 dual-threat quarterback in the country, and eventually he received scholarship offers from a lot of top-ranked programs — including nearby LSU — but the University of Florida recruited him as a wide receiver, the path a lot of programs wanted him to take.
But Bridgewater was still convinced that he was a quarterback; and he spent most of the recruiting process committed to a down-on-its-luck University of Miami Hurricanes football program during the Randy Shannon Era.
When Shannon was fired however, Bridgewater instead switched his commitment to a University of Louisville team that had just hired their new head coach at that time in Charlie Strong (now with the University of South Florida).
In college, Bridgewater finished his first season at Louisville completing 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,129 yards 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions as a true freshman.
Each subsequent season, Bridgewater improved in every statistical category passing the ball, including yards, touchdowns, interceptions and completion percentage.
Bridgewater finished his career at Louisville throwing for nearly 10,000 yards, 72 touchdowns and just 24 interceptions. Sports Illustrated even named him as the "most franchise-ready QB" of the 2014 Draft Class.
Some NFL scouts even compared him to current NFL star QB's Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, for his dual-threat capability using either his arm or legs.
But some Saints fans remain very skeptical, and until the NEED ever arises for the Saints to insert Bridgewater into the line-up, those doubts will continue to linger.
Yet regardless, one important thing that all 'Who Dats' should be careful to remember is that even though Bridgewater has now been in the League going on 5 years (since 2014), he's still only just 25 years old and has only had a grand total of 28 NFL career starts.
Translation: Bridgewater STILL is a franchise-caliber player at the QB position, and you can best believe that there isn't any other NFL team out there who would hesitate to sign him if they needed a new starting QB and he were available to them.
As the Saints continue their preparations for tomorrow's game against the Buccaneers, it should also be noted that it's very unlikely that Bridgewater will even see the field this season, unless Brees gets injured. But having at least a year (or possibly 2 or 3) to learn behind a future Hall of Famer will be extremely beneficial to him in the long run.
But he will also benefit greatly from being in Payton‘s offensive system, which Payton said to reporters recently fits Bridgewater’s skill set; and a successfully-proven offensive scheme which Bridgewater himself says that he feels he can excel within.