As dinner was cooking last night my wife and I got into the Teddy Bridgewater discussion.
It’s one we’ve had a few times before but it had more of a finality feeling to it this time. Like it could possibly be the last time we hit the Teddy conversation button in our lives.
My wife used to watch the Vikings games with me, once upon a time…well, in Teddy time. He had just lead them to the playoffs in 2015, which was the year I first met my wife. We watched one or two games together that year and she instantly became a big Teddy fan. He was poised to garner more responsibility, leadership, and have an even bigger year in 2016. We were both looking forward to it.
Shortly before the season started I got a text from a good buddy of mine while I was at work that simply read sorry to hear about Teddy. I had no idea what he was talking about but I knew it couldn’t be good. I was hoping he might be joking.
No such luck.
A freak non-contact injury on a play in practice, one week before the season-opener, which almost resulted in a leg amputation, put him on the shelf for the season. The remainder of the practice was cancelled that day. Some players could be seen crying and puking as they walked off the practice field. The team doctor described his leg as looking like soup. Weeks later Coach Mike Zimmer would give credit to the team physicians for saving Teddy’s leg. He raved about the quick and decisive actions of team doctors and trainers. It turns out their actions saved both his leg and his career.
My wife and I watched all the 2016 games together, as our son Harrison kept looming larger and larger in her stomach from week to week. The team got off to a hot start under Sam Bradford, who they traded a first round pick for almost immediately after the Teddy injury, but fizzled out into reality and finished 8-8. Coincidentally they beat Jacksonville 25-16 a few hours after Harrison was born. My wife put up with the team and watched that year with me under the assumption that Teddy would be back to guide the troops in 2017.
He wasn’t. At least not right away. Teddy went to camp, continued his rehab off to the side of the team and looked good in drills both on instagram and when he was allowed to practice with his offensive unit. But he started the year on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list. The Vikings planned on going with Bradford again to start the 2017 season, and the team brought in journeyman Case Keenum for insurance. Teddy was eligible to come back onto the active roster after week 7.
I believe the plan all along was to eventually somehow plug Teddy back into the starting role. And that plan quickly became a reality, and a million times easier to justify, once Bradford went down with a leg/knee/foot injury after week one. An injury that basically sidelined him for the season.
With a 2-2 record after four weeks, and Keenum assuming the starting quarterback role, Minnesota just needed to hold down the fort until Teddy was eligible to return in week 8. From a Vikings perspective, it could possibly work out perfect. Rodgers in Green Bay was out for the season with an injury, the rest of the division was shot, and if Keenum could win a game here or there, have them at 5-3 or 4-4, then give way to a healthy Teddy, everything would seemingly work itself out for both the short term and long run. The Vikings would have a good chance to win the division, Teddy would have a chance to prove he was healthy and could play well, and Minnesota fans, given Teddy’s reputation and possible storyline, would come out to support the team in droves. There was only one problem with that plan.
Case Keenum decided to have the year of his life.
Seriously. Case Keenum. No joke.
He went on one hell of a regular season run. Week after week the veteran journeyman qb caught lightening in a bottle. He was even considered an MVP candidate. After a 2-2 start, the Vikings would win 11 of their next 12 and finish the season 13-3. Keenum never gave Mike Zimmer a reason to pull him. And trust me he was looking for one.
Week after week Zimmer would take questions on the quarterback situation, never once giving Keenum any credit or job security. The best he ever came up with was a “you keep asking me that question, I’m not looking to pull the guy.” In a week 11 game against St. Louis, Troy Aikman told viewers that Zimmer, during one of the pre-production interviews, had all-but guaranteed him he had a plan for Bridgewater to transition into the starting quarterback.
The problem was he couldn’t justify doing it after a win, and Keenum didn’t do much losing. The one game they lost, Keenum played great, bringing the team back from a big deficit to tie it late in the fourth, only to have the defense give up a long run to Cam Newton and blow their chance for victory in the final seconds.
Keenum’s Vikings cruised into the playoffs. He even quarterbacked the famous Minneapolis Miracle against the Saints in the playoffs.
The Case Keenum coach Zimmer had been expecting to show up all during the regular season regrettably finally found his way onto the field in Philadelphia during the NFC championship game the next week. He went 28-48 with 1 TD, 2 INT’s, and a lost fumble. One of his interceptions was a pick 6 when the Vikings were ahead 7-0. They lost 38-7.
That offseason was the start of the Kirk Cousins era. Bradford and Keenum were set to be free agents and it was clear both weren’t going to be offered contracts from the team. The Vikings had tons of salary cap space and I was still holding out hope for Teddy. I thought maybe they could sign him to a team friendly deal, possibly a ‘prove it’ type of contract for something like 1 year 10 million with a 2nd year team or player option, and spend all the money they’d save to improve other areas of the team (hello offensive line).
The team instead had their eye on Cousins. Previous years of salary cap savvy had afforded them the luxury to spend big money in free agency in the 2018 offseason if they chose to do so. Cousins, to his credit, played the situation brilliantly. He let most of the other free agent Qb’s sign first, then leveraged the New York Jets, whom he had zero interest in signing with, and the Arizona Cardinals, in order to get every last penny out of the Vikings. As a result he signed the first (and still the NFL’s only) fully guaranteed contract in NFL history.
My wife was instantly turned off. She never gave Cousin’s a chance. I don’t blame her. Looking back at the last three years, aside from the playoff game against the Saints, he really hasn’t deserved it.
He had great statistics his first two years in Minnesota, but It’s always just one of those things were stats don’t tell the whole story with this guy. I’ve watched every game he’s played as a Viking and the best way to sum him up is this: At noon on a Sunday, with 8-10 other games going on at the same time, against a team that’s not playoff bound, when no one is watching, Kirk Cousins is gonna light it up. These are the games that build up his stats. Games where the Vikings are nationally featured, that are against playoff teams, he tends to play average or execute very poorly, yet you can always count on him to put a meaningless drive or two together in garbage time to make his statistics respectable at game’s end. His career record in primetime games speaks for itself (7-31), and since becoming a Viking he is 3-8 when playing against teams with a winning record.
I understand that football is the ultimate team game and pinning all those losses on him might be unfair, but from a purely non-statistical standpoint I can tell you a few things about Kirk Cousins. When you watch him play, he never instills total confidence in you. When I watch other big time quarterbacks play, they have a certain bravado to them. They make hard plays look easy from time-to-time. When they are tied, or down 1-3 points, with less than two minutes to go, you have no doubt they’ll put together a drive and get their team in a position for at least a field goal attempt, at a bare minimum. It’s not even a question with guys like Wilson, Brees, Rodgers, Brady, Stafford, Mahomes, Big Ben, Watson, Dak, etc. With Cousins there’s no ‘get on my back’ mentality. There’s no bravado. He needs a little more Baker Mayfield or Cam Newton in him. A little bit of chest pounding. A little ‘this is my game’ attitude every once in awhile. YOU LIKE THAT!!? doesn’t cut it.
He has time and time again been the guy who’s not able to seal the game on third down with that big completion they need. He’s somehow missed picking up multiple first downs on 4th down qb sneaks when they only needed an inch or two, always thinking he just needs to fall forward to convert. No Kirk. Take a gander at how Tom Brady executes the QB sneak, there’s a lot more to it than that…You have to go get that inch, you have to take that yard. Kirk hopes and wants. He doesn’t ever take. Kirk always just looks like he’s fine either way. And he certainly doesn’t ‘command the troops’ down the field in crunch time (again, aside from the Saints playoff game last year).
This year he leads the league in interceptions, and he and his team haven’t been very good at all.
When we talk about Vikings football around my house now the conversations are usually quick. When Cousins was acquired and Bridgewater signed with the Jets (then traded to the Saints and now with the Panthers) that was the beginning of the end for my wife’s fandom. But now, in year three of the Cousins era, the wife and I found ourselves back to square one in the Teddy B discussion.
She says it should’ve been Teddy all the way. I wish it was too. As I stated earlier, I was pulling for it to be Teddy back when all this was happening. The part where I consistently differ with her is in the realism of sports realm.
I actually understand why they did it. From an organizational standpoint I 100% understand why they spent so much money to go out and get Kirk Cousins in 2018. The team was one game away from making it to the super bowl the year before. They had the number one rated defense in the league, with all the players from that unit under contract to come back. The front office thought they made it as far as they did despite having to hide their inefficiencies at the quarterback position. And with Dalvin Cook coming back (he missed the last 14 games of the season in 2017) they imagined an explosive offense with a Cousins/Cook backfield, two of the best receivers in the game in Diggs and Thielen, and a solid tight end in Kyle Rudolph. Couple that with a defense that’s played together for years and could shut opponents down. You can see why Vikings ownership was sold on the fact that a Cousins addition would make their team look unstoppable and push their team over the top.
(The move even prompted me to predict the team was going to the Super Bowl before the season started. Something I’ve never done. Not even in 1998.)
The only thing they had to sign off on was the money. And that’s where the dilemma really lies. In signing Cousins to that big contract management knew they had only a small window. They were all-in on 2018. After that they’d be in salary cap hell with the way the roster shaped out. The coach knew that, Rob Brzezinski (Executive VP of Football Operations and salary-cap guru) knew that, the GM knew that, and the owners signed off on it.
I understood that was the deal at the time too. Take the finances out of the equation and we went through a similar deal when we went with Favre in 2009. We signed a deal with the devil and sold out the future for the present in both cases.
My wife doesn’t understand that logic, even from an organizational standpoint…why they would want to sign Cousins. They had Teddy for now and the future. My argument was I understand why they did it, they are the Vikings. They never win. But they see a chance to do it and they want to strike while the iron is hot. Win now! I always preferred that they would’ve gone with Teddy and kept a good salary cap standing, but I wasn’t gonna hate on the fact they thought they had a winner and wanted to capitalize on it.
After signing Kirk I quickly went into support mode. Regrettably I’m still in that mode even though I pretty much know what I’m getting at this point. The wife accurately predicted he wasn’t the answer the moment he signed and she hasn’t wavered in that. She hasn’t watched much Vikings football since.
We have had the Teddy conversation many times. During a couple of them I have been in certain moods where I think she’s purposely just trying to piss me off when she brings it up and it makes me think she’s happy when they lose now, with Kirk at the helm. But last night we came to a better understanding of it.
This last conversation we finally hit the healthy middle ground. She gets my thinking of what the team’s logic was and she doesn’t agree with it. “Money should not go into the decision at all.” She says. C’mon, we’re talking about modern day sports here. She knows if it was up to me Teddy would still probably be the starting quarterback today. And she has told me she doesn’t hate the Vikings and doesn’t want them to loose, she just not as fired up about it anymore because she loves Teddy and hates Cousins.
I acknowledge that she was completely right about Cousins and no longer throw out his better-than-average bogus statistics to stick up for the team signing him. I don’t care what the stats actually say. I watch him play every week. He doesn’t pass the eye test. “He’s not the problem,” and “Kirk can’t play defense too,” are no longer statements I make to her just for spite.
The problem we have now is the Vikings actually signed Kirk Cousins to an extension this offseason to free up a little bit of cap space, which is sort of like borrowing from one creditor to pay another. It didn’t solve anything and only prolonged the inevitable of knowing he’s not the guy, getting rid of him, and starting over. Similar to what they had to do in 2010 and 2011 after Favre.
In this case I don’t understand what the franchise logic was. Especially considering the salary cap room created was only used to franchise Anthony Harris, who will most certainly walk as a free agent after the year, if he’s not traded during it. Maybe they thought they had a chance to make a run at it this year, but holy shit they were kidding themselves. And that’s not a results-oriented take. Feel free to read my 2020 Vikings Team Preview written in August if you doubt that fact.
Cousins, once again, outdid himself on contract negotiations with the team on his recent extension. He managed to make it virtually impossible for the Vikings to cut him before his contract is up. The team would have to eat so much money and it wouldn’t help much with the cap even if they did part ways.
So I’m rendered helpless to a couple more years of watching Cousins at the helm. No apologetic argument for the team’s logic in the tank dip into if the wife asks how Cousins or the team is doing. They made their own bed with this one.
Meanwhile Tabitha and I both check in with Teddy here and there. Nice to see he’s starting for the Panthers and holding his own.