First, some good news:
Rookie halfback Dalvin Cook will return next year hopefully close to 100%. 2017 saw a glut of first-year running backs take charge with their new teams, from Alvin Kamara supplanting Adrian Peterson in New Orleans, to first-round pick Leonard Fournette battering opposing defenses for the Jaguars, to Kareem Hunt allowing Andy Reid to open up his playbook in Kansas City.
Before his injury, Cook looked like he belonged with that three-headed monster of rookie ‘backs. But Cook was the only one who got injured, going down for the season in a Week Four loss to Detroit. But the Vikings rallied without him, going 11-1 the rest of the regular season. His return will make this team even better.
More good news:
(Photo Courtesy of CityPages.Com)
All three of the team’s current quarterbacks will be, barring offseason injury, healthy at the start of training camp. Sam Bradford–who only played in two games this season–suited up for the playoffs in a back-up role. Teddy Bridgewater, who missed all of 2016 after suffering a pre-season injury, was activated earlier this year, appearing in one game, and looks ready to go for 2018.
Then there’s Case Keenum, the team’s current starting quarterback, whose season didn’t end because of injury, but because he got throttled by a hellacious Eagles pass-rush.
Now, the first bit of bad news:
Vikings offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmur, is expected to be named the New York Giants head coach at any time. He’ll head off to New York to draft that team’s quarterback of the future with the #2 overall pick while, presumably, turning to two-time Super Bowl champion Eli Manning for at least another year.
That last bit should be good news for the Vikings and the fan base: that means Shurmur won’t be trying to poach one of the team’s three quarterbacks out of Minnesota, like it looked he may have tried to do had he gone somewhere else, like Arizona.
Also fortunate for Minnesota: it looks like Shurmur will be the only coach leaving the staff. The team can turn to wide receivers coach (and former Kent State and Purdue head coach) Darrell Hazell for the sake of continuity. Or the team can look outside of the organization to the recently fired Ben McAdoo, who was once a promising coordinator for the Giants, or even Mike McCoy, who engineered stellar offenses as a coordinator with the Broncos and coach of the Chargers. Todd Haley, despite speaking with the Browns, remains available, too.
Regardless of who Mike Zimmer hires, the Vikings will need to solve the biggest question of them all:
Who is going to the be the starting quarterback next season?
As great as it is that Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum are all healthy at the same time, none of them are under contract for next season. Bridgewater’s rookie deal is expiring; Bradford’s two-year deal he signed with the Eagles before getting traded north is up; and Keenum signed only a one-year deal before the season began.
Each of the quarterbacks has his strengths and weaknesses. It would make sense, on a number of levels, for the Vikings to bring back any one of these quarterbacks. Paradoxically, it would also make sense, on the same number of levels, for the Vikings to not bring them back.
Overall, it seems like the team will bring back one, if not two, of them. Bringing all three back is out of the question. Bringing none of them back is a possibility, but probably the least likely scenario of all–though there are certainly going to be plenty of quarterbacks available this offseason, either by trade or the free market.
Taking a looking at the quarterbacks on the roster, Keenum is the biggest enigma. He went undrafted out of Houston and has bounced around teams during his six seasons. He began with the Texans, played for the Rams, both in Missouri and California, and just wrapped his first year with the Vikings. Before going 11-3 this season, his career record was 9-15, having thrown 24 touchdowns and 20 interceptions. In 2017, he threw for over 3,500 yards with 22 touchdowns versus 7 interceptions.
(Photo Courtesy of SportingNews)
Bridgewater was once viewed as the future of the franchise after leading the team to the playoffs in 2015, his second season out of Louisville. The team went 11-5 and Bridgewater tossed 14 touchdowns, 9 interceptions, and completed 65% of his passes for over 3,200 yards. But in workouts the following offseason, he suffered a catastrophic injury, and has not played a meaningful down since.
When Bridgewater went down, the team moved to get Bradford, who had just seen his then-employer, the Eagles, draft Carson Wentz. Bradford–the former first overall pick by the St. Louis Rams back in 2010–has had a roller-coaster of a career, often beset by injuries. Of the three quarterbacks, he has the most talent, but can’t stay on the field. Only twice in his career has he played his team’s full slate of games, and he has never led an organization to the playoffs. Though blessed with pinpoint accuracy, he stays in the pocket too long and takes too many sacks, thus leading to injury. His career win-loss record, which while not the best thing to consider statistically, is still telling: going 34-45-1 is downright dismal. Despite that, because of his talent, he will command the highest contract of these three quarterbacks.
The Vikings need to quickly determine who they want, because numerous teams are going to be gunning for a new quarterback. The Browns, Cardinals, Bills, Jets, Broncos, and possibly the Redskins and Saints may all be dipping into the market. Bradford, Bridgewater, and Keenum will all have plenty of suitors. It will be paramount for Minnesota to strike a deal with the quarterback the team likes best before free agency begins.
Based on injury-history and potential salary, plus familiarity with the organization, the Vikings should keep Bridgewater and Keenum, letting Bradford walk. In today’s NFL, having two reliable quarterbacks is more important than ever. (Just take a look at the NFC champions.) Minnesota has a chance to keep two good ones around. Rick Spielman should make it happen, and let them battle to determine who will be the starter.
What do you think? Do you agree the Vikings should try to keep Keenum and Bridgewater? Is Bradford the answer? Or does the team need to look to someone else? Let me know in the comments section!