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Teddy Bridgewater’s perseverance pays off with a starting QB job in Carolina

The former backup to Drew Brees gets his first shot at a starting QB since 2015.

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

Teddy Bridgewater is finally getting a chance to be an NFL franchise quarterback again. At the start of free agency, it was reported he signed a three-year deal with the Carolina Panthers, worth $63 million. Not only is this a good signing for the Panthers, who are moving on from Cam Newton, but this is even better for the 27-year-old Bridgewater.

Bridgewater spent the last two seasons in New Orleans, where he backed up Drew Brees. But he wasn’t out of the spotlight entirely. He went 5-0 as a starter when Brees went down with a thumb injury last season. Even though Brees came back when he was healthy, Bridgewater’s performance proved he was ready to be a starter again, not a perennial backup.

Bridgewater’s had a long road to get to this point in his career, and things are finally looking up for him again.

Bridgewater started his career in Minnesota, which got off to a hot start.

In 2014, the Vikings drafted Bridgewater with the No. 32 pick in the first round. He was supposed to back up Matt Cassel, but took over after Cassel was injured in Week 3. During his rookie season, Bridgewater went 6-6 as the starter and broke a whopping 91 franchise records despite throwing 14 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

In 2015, Bridgewater led the Vikings to an 11-5 record and an NFC North title. He also made the Pro Bowl after throwing for 3,231 yards and 14 touchdowns. His future looked bright after just two years in the league.

Unfortunately, a catastrophic knee injury he suffered during training camp caused him to miss the entire 2016 season and most of 2017. Scarily enough, his knee was so shattered his doctor was worried he’d never walk again. Bridgewater’s career drastically slowed down as a result. He had just two pass attempts in 2017, backing up Sam Bradford and Case Keenum that season.

After leaving Minnesota, Bridgewater rebuilt his value in New Orleans.

Bridgewater became a free agent in 2018 and signed with the Jets, who then drafted Sam Darnold in the first round to be their starter. New York had already signed Josh McCown to be Darnold’s backup, so Bridgewater’s best option was to impress enough in preseason to earn a backup spot elsewhere. He did just that, completing 28 of 38 passes for 316 yards with two touchdowns with just one interception.

It was enough to convince the Saints to trade for Bridgewater to become Brees’ backup. He completed just 14 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in spot duty that year.

Like the year before, there wasn’t much of a market for Bridgewater in 2019. Although the tanking Dolphins attempted to sign Bridgewater to be their starter in 2019, the Saints convinced him to stay in New Orleans as a backup for $7.25 million a year.

“As a competitor you want to be out there starting and competing,” Bridgewater said via Nola.com when he was asked during training camp why he chose to stay in New Orleans. “But I just sat back and I weighed my options and thought about what would be best for me.

“This is an opportunity for me to grow, continue to learn and expand my mental capacity as a football player.”

The decision paid off for Bridgewater immensely.

Bridgewater was thrust into action in the first quarter of a Week 2 game against the Los Angeles Rams when Brees exited with his injury. Although the Rams won that game, New Orleans never lost with Bridgewater at QB from there on out.

Perhaps more importantly, Bridgewater looked entirely comfortable under center each week. This back-shoulder throw against the Cowboys in Week 4 was a beauty:

His best game came against the Bucs in Week 5, when he threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns while putting up a passer rating of 131.2. He displayed pinpoint accuracy, like on this throw to Michael Thomas:

And from the same game, he showed his ability to step into the pocket when he needed to and delivered this strike to Ted Ginn Jr., who waltzed into the end zone:

In Bridgewater’s five games as the starter, he threw for 1,205 yards and nine touchdowns, and had a passer rating of 103.7. If you extrapolate that for a full season, it’d be a career year for him: 3,856 yards, 29 touchdowns, and just six picks.

Bridgewater was again No. 2 on the depth chart after Brees recovered, but that five-week stretch was huge for both Bridgewater and the New Orleans. In his first meaningful playing time since 2015, he restored his value as a starter and also kept the Saints in the thick of the NFC playoff race. The Saints were upset in the playoffs by the Vikings, but they still finished with a 13-3 year thanks in part to Bridgewater stepping up when his team needed him.

In Carolina, Bridgewater can fully take the reins of an offense for the first time since 2015.

This offseason was different than the previous two for Bridgewater. He found a team willing to commit to him with a multi-year contract, and it’s a deal that makes sense for both sides.

Bridgewater will be a positive presence in Carolina, too. His former teammates spoke about his calming demeanor in the huddle last season and he also became known for his dance moves in the Saints’ locker room. That leadership can help first-time NFL coach Matt Rhule and a Panthers team in the midst of a rebuild.

Bridgewater will already have some familiarity with the coaching staff. The Panthers’ new offensive coordinator, Joe Brady, was an offensive assistant for the Saints in 2018. Prior to joining the Panthers, Brady was the architect of LSU’s historically good offense last season. He helped the Tigers win a national title while coaching 2020’s future No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow.

In Carolina, Bridgewater inherits an offense that includes first-team All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, and speedy receivers DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel. This will work out nicely for Bridgewater — 143 of his 196 passes went for nine yards or fewer, and he averaged 5.8 air yards per attempt last season.

He found success with the Saints’ dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara, who averaged more than six targets and 40 yards per game with Bridgewater under center. With McCaffrey, Moore, and Samuel, Bridgewater will have several targets who can take those short throws and turn them into big gains.

Now that the Panthers know they have Bridgewater secured, they can start adding more talent around him during free agency and the draft.

No matter what, Bridgewater is great example of perseverance. He was a star in the making until an injury threatened his career. But he never gave up, and he worked his way back to where he is now. What the future for Bridgewater in Carolina holds remains to be seen, but he’s absolutely earned his shot to become an NFL starting quarterback again.