After missing all but one game over his last two seasons, newly acquired quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is a low-cost lottery ticket for the New York Jets. With Josh McCown and 2018 first-round draft pick Sam Darnold on the roster, however, the best way for Bridgewater to maximize his value for Todd Bowles’ team could be to play somewhere else.
That’s not to say that Bridgewater can’t earn the starting job with the Jets. But in a league where even average quarterback play is rewarded with eight-figure annual salaries, a 25-year-old passer with a Pro Bowl pedigree like Bridgewater would bring a solid return in a preseason trade. His inexpensive one-year, $5 million contract and encouraging reviews from the start of Jets’ official team activities (OTAs) could even be enough to wipe away concerns about his relatively meager numbers in Minnesota or, more importantly, the catastrophic knee injury that cost him nearly two full years of his NFL career:
We’ve seen backup QBs shipped from stocked teams in the offseason before. Coincidentally enough, Sam Bradford’s career revival in Minnesota wouldn’t have happened without Bridgewater being lost for the season in August 2015. Jacoby Brissett went from the Patriots’ third-string passer to the Colts’ starter last fall when Andrew Luck’s balky shoulder forced him out for the year.
Bridgewater could be the next player acquired to bolster a team’s unsettled quarterback position before the regular season starts. Here’s who could be interested:
Rostered quarterbacks: AJ McCarron, Josh Allen, Nathan Peterman
We’ll start with the least encouraging quarterback depth chart in the NFL. Buffalo’s three-deep includes a rookie from Wyoming with accuracy problems, a second-year player who threw five interceptions in 14 attempts in his first career start, and a career backup who has thrown fewer than 34 passes per year. If that group can’t inspire confidence, the Bills could look to Bridgewater to take the reins while Allen and Peterman develop behind him.
While trading with a division rival may be a tough pill to swallow, it’s a move that could make sense. Bridgewater’s one-year deal makes him a strong stopgap between the team’s present and future if general manager Brandon Beane isn’t quite ready to push his offense onto Allen’s shoulders. It would also help keep the momentum of Buffalo’s first postseason berth of the millennium moving forward.
Rostered quarterbacks: Ryan Tannehill, Brock Osweiler, David Fales, Bryce Petty
The Dolphins are in a perilous spot with Tannehill, who was good enough to get them to the postseason in 2016 but has since been a major question mark atop their depth chart thanks to knee injuries. Brock Osweiler is so lightly regarded the Browns wouldn’t even let him compete for their starting spot. Petty is 1-6 as an NFL starter, has a 4:10 TD:INT ratio, and completed 49 percent of his passes last season.
Bridgewater may not be an upgrade over a healthy Tannehill, but he’s a high-yield second option in case the oft-injured starter fails to fully recover from his latest ACL tear. Would Miami want to pay for another quarterback with knee concerns? Given their options behind him — and the failure behind pulling Jay Cutler out of the broadcasting booth to play quarterback last year — they just might.
Rostered quarterbacks: Russell Wilson, Austin Davis, Alex McGough
Russell Wilson’s durability has been one of the most impressive aspects of his game, especially when you consider the cheesecloth offensive line in front of him. The Seahawks haven’t added much to their blocking corps this offseason aside from low-cost veteran D.J. Fluker and fifth-round draft pick Jamarco Jones, which means the young veteran could see plenty of pressure in 2018. It may be in the club’s best interests to sign a high-upside backup to prevent a lost season should Wilson suffer an injury that forces him to miss an extended period of time for the first time in his career.
However, with the rest of the NFC West rising and Seattle falling toward a rebuild, that could be counterproductive. Maybe — just maybe — a bottoming-out and the high draft pick that would come with it would work in the Seahawks’ favor should Wilson suffer a season-ending injury.
Rostered quarterbacks: Deshaun Watson, Brandon Weeden, Joe Webb, Stephen Morris
Watson’s 2017 injury derailed a potential rookie of the year performance and spiraled the Texans from a 3-3 start to a 1-9 finish. While he’ll be back at full strength this season, Houston’s limited offensive line presents many of the same challenges the Seahawks face — only this time with a quarterback already recovering from a torn ACL.
Bridgewater is good enough to keep a dangerous Texans team in the AFC South race should Watson see another season curtailed by injury. While there may be some reservations behind backing up one mobile quarterback with a recent history of knee problems with another, the one-time Pro Bowler is likely the best option Houston could find. If Watson suffers a setback in his recovery and is projected to miss any time this year, turning to a healthy Bridgewater would give the team a much higher ceiling than Weeden, Webb, or Morris could.
Rostered quarterbacks: Cam Newton, Kyle Allen, Garrett Gilbert, Taylor Heinicke
Newton is a tank who has only missed three games in his NFL career, even taking the field less than two weeks after a brutal car accident in 2014. But his Panthers are built to win now, and one untimely injury would take Carolina from the top of the NFC South to the bottom of the league rankings. Bridgewater would be a reliable backup option who could do more than just keep the team afloat given enough time to learn head coach Ron Rivera’s system.
Newton had ligament and cartilage damage cleaned up this offseason and could have a slow start when he returns to the field. Having Bridgewater in the lineup, especially now that Derek Anderson is no longer a Panther, would provide some security in case his recovery takes longer than expected.
Rostered quarterbacks: Marcus Mariota, Blaine Gabbert, Luke Falk
Mariota finished 2016 on the injured list and had a significant setback in 2017 after throwing just 13 touchdown passes and forcing 15 interceptions. While he’s one of the league’s most exciting young quarterbacks when on top of his game, that recent swing has raised some questions about his future — even after leading the Titans to the Divisional Round of last year’s playoffs.
Trading for Bridgewater would shore up a grim backup situation, especially considering Mariota hasn’t played a full 16-game season yet in his career. Tennessee is 1-5 in games where he doesn’t take the field, and the only win was a meaningless Week 16 victory over the Texans two years ago. Bridgewater would be a luxury, but he’d be an impressive insurance policy in Nashville.
Rostered quarterbacks: Andy Dalton, Matt Barkley, Logan Woodside, Jeff Driskel
Dalton’s backup of the past four seasons is gone now that the aforementioned McCarron is a Bill. The depth chart behind him isn’t especially inspiring — and for that matter, neither was Dalton’s play in 2017. The longtime starter struggled with a depleted supporting cast, recording a career-low 207 passing yards per game in a 7-9 season.
Landing Bridgewater gives the Bengals a viable No. 2 option and someone with playoff experience who could avoid the kind of letdown that marred the team’s last postseason appearance. A back-to-form Dalton is good enough to fend off the former Viking for the team’s top spot, but he could certainly benefit from having a capable backup to push him.