In his second year in the NFL, Teddy Bridgewater started at quarterback for the 11-5 Minnesota Vikings in 2015. His promising performance at the helm of the NFC North champions earned him a Pro Bowl berth. Unfortunately, Bridgewater suffered a non-contact knee injury during a team practice before the 2016 season, resulting in a torn ACL. It was a horribly severe injury (he almost lost his leg), and the rising star ended up missing the most of the next two seasons, attempting just two passes in 2017.
In 2018, Bridgewater signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets, but he never played a single snap for them. In fact, his first start at quarterback since his grotesque injury wasn’t until Week 17 of the 2018 season, by which point Bridgewater was on the New Orleans Saints. He only started because it was a meaningless game for the Saints, who had already clinched the one-seed in the NFC.
Bridgewater was demoted from a Pro Bowl quarterback to a journeyman backup because of an unlucky injury on a drop-back he had repeated thousands of times before. Despite his unfair downfall, he consistently brought positive energy to the field and quickly became a fan-favorite due to his contagious cheerfulness.
It’s easy to see why so many fans want to see him succeed. It’s also reasonable for quarterback-needy teams like the Miami Dolphins to take a chance with him. What’s the worst that could happen? Likewise, he’s about as good of a backup quarterback as the Saints could hope for. However, if anybody expects Teddy Bridgewater to overcome the odds and become a long-term franchise quarterback for an NFL team, they will be sorely disappointed.
When I think of the term “game manager,” I imagine a quarterback who exemplifies mediocrity. They don’t do anything special — the player just manages the game in order to avoid making a mistake that can cost their team the game. The game manager rarely takes risks because they have a supporting cast that doesn’t need him to go above and beyond. As long as the quarterback isn’t contributing negatively, the team will win games.
There’s nothing wrong with game managers, but it’s not possible to evaluate a quarterback based on their performance in a system where their talents are not relied upon. Sure, the team may be winning games. However, are they winning games because of the quarterback or in spite of the quarterback? Don’t get me wrong; plenty of teams would love to have a competent game manager at quarterback, but these are teams with below-average quarterbacks that are holding down the rest of the squad. The idea of a game managing quarterback is one who can’t make the rest of the team better; he just doesn’t make them worse.
Take Russell Wilson at the beginning of his career. He was drafted in the third round into the most favorable situation for a young quarterback. In his first three seasons, the Seahawks ranked first in the NFL in rushing offensive efficiency twice. In this same timespan, Seattle’s famous Legion of Boom defense ranked in the top-two in defensive efficiency thrice. The Seahawks didn’t need Russell Wilson to do anything particularly special. They went 36-12 in this three-year span and won a Super Bowl. It worked out.
However, the Seahawks no longer have a stacked all-around roster to lift the pressure from Wilson’s shoulders. In 2017, Wilson finished with 586 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground. The second leading rusher on the team ran for just 240 yards and no touchdowns. Their defense ranked 13th in the league in defensive efficiency — not bad, but not anything particularly great. Russell Wilson was put into a position where he had to carry the team. Fortunately, he had grown very much as a player, so the Seattle finished with a respectable 9-7 win-loss record.
The point here is that while a game manager was all the Seahawks needed in 2013, they needed much more from the quarterback position in 2017. This phenomenon is true for any team — it’s impossible to sustain the same stacked roster for a prolonged period of time. While a game manager can be great temporarily, a team will eventually need a true franchise quarterback.
The number of quarterbacks who can adequately fill the role of a game manager is far higher than the number of quarterbacks who can serve as a team’s long-term franchise quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater belongs to the former category.
In Bridgewater’s aforementioned 2015 campaign, he finished with 3,231 passing yards while completing 65.3% of his passes. His touchdown-interception ratio was modest (14-9), and his passer rating of 88.7 was just slightly below league-average (90.2). His 5.70 adjusted net yards per attempt ranked 28th in the league. None of these numbers are eye-popping, yet the Vikings finished with 11 wins and the NFC North title. How?
Well, the Vikings’ offense included all-time great running back Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns. The team also had their decent share of pass-catchers. Stefon Diggs piled on 720 receiving yards in his rookie season while Kyle Rudolph and Mike Wallace were veterans playing at a high level. While their numbers in 2015 weren’t great, Rudolph and Wallace experienced a 69% and 115% increase in their receiving yard totals in 2016 without Bridgewater at quarterback. They were obviously very talented players. In addition, the Vikings’ offensive line finished 16th in the league in pass-blocking, right in the middle of the pack. Nothing on offense was holding Bridgewater back,
Let’s take a deeper look at Bridgewater’s numbers in 2015. Bridgewater’s passes traveled 7.2 yards through the air on average. For reference, Brees transitioned into more of a dink-and-dunk quarterback this season, but his average depth of target (7.3) was still higher than Teddy’s. Brees had an expected completion percentage of 65.4% — his actual completion percentage was 74.4%, giving him the highest differential in the league. Bridgewater was expected to complete 66.3% of his passes in 2015, while he actually completed 65.5% of his passes. Yes, based on the difficulty of his attempts, Bridgewater completed fewer passes than he was expected to. You don’t even have to compare those numbers to Drew Brees to make it look bad. Ryan Tannehill, Case Keenum, Brock Osweiler, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, Sam Darnold, Joe Flacco, Jeff Driskel, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Blake Bortles, and CJ Beathard were the quarterbacks in 2018 to have a COMP% differential as bad as Bridgewater’s. Half of them likely won’t start at quarterback next season, while most of the others are either older players in the twilight of their careers or rookies who didn’t have high expectations to begin with.
How did Bridgewater perform when he wasn’t playing safe on short passes? Bridgewater attempted 80 throws greater than 15 yards in 2015, 21st most in the league. This number includes yards picked up after the catch and the Vikings were 4th in the NFL in YAC, so the actual number is likely much lower. However, one could argue that the Vikings were simply not giving Bridgewater a chance to do more. After all, just because he passed it short a lot doesn’t mean we know that he isn’t good at deeper passes. How do we know that he doesn’t have the potential to become a franchise quarterback like Russell Wilson? Well, Teddy’s passer rating on these passes was 51.4, 2nd worst in the league ahead of only Brock Osweiler. Despite a boost because of his team’s above-average YAC totals, Bridgewater performed horribly on passes that weren’t for extremely short gains. He threw for just 3 touchdowns but 8 interceptions on these passes. It seems like the Vikings didn’t air it out more often because Bridgewater wasn’t capable of it. Think about what a 15-yard pass is. That includes deep passes, but it also encompasses those intermediate passes that a franchise quarterback has to be able to make.
Bridgewater’s average completion traveled 4.92 yards through the air in 2015. A more conservative performance from a quarterback has only been achieved on 19 occasions since 2006.
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There are plenty of names here which a young quarterback does not want to be associated with. Matthew Stafford would be viewed as a franchise quarterback by most fans, but his two seasons which qualified for this list were mediocre seasons by his standards.
Alright, so Bridgewater’s great 2015 season wasn’t great after all. That was a long time ago, though. How do we know that he hasn’t gotten better? After all, he was a 23-year-old back then. Plenty of players put up worse numbers at that age!
The answer is simple: we don’t. Bridgewater has started in just one game since his 2015 season. He completed 60.9% of his 23 passes for just 118 yards, one touchdown, one interception, and a passer rating of 70.6. While the reserve offensive line struggled, Bridgewater’s passer rating of 89.2 when under no pressure was still under league-average passer rating on any play. His accuracy percentage of 66.7% (percent of passes which are catchable, different from completion percentage) ranked 49th in the NFL among quarterbacks with at least 20 attempts. It was definitely a small sample size, but he didn’t really show any promise in his return to the NFL.
Maybe Teddy Bridgewater will become a legitimate franchise quarterback for the New Orleans Saints. However, he has done nothing to give reason to believe that it will happen — assuming that it will is just wishful thinking. Bridgewater’s ability as a smart game manager would be useful to the Saints in the near future because of the talent they have on the team. However, this talent is temporary. The Saints will eventually need a true franchise quarterback, just like the Seattle Seahawks did. Teddy is not that guy. He essentially has a higher floor than most quarterbacks, but a lower ceiling. It makes more sense for the Saints to draft a quarterback on a rookie contract who has more potential than it is to give a greater contract to Teddy.
He is not the future of the New Orleans Saints.