Denver Broncos general manager George Paton was so confident in the abilities of newly acquired QB Russell Wilson this past offseason that not only did he give him a lofty extension before seeing him take a snap, but he also brought in no QB who could challenge or fill in for him.
That proved to be a fatal error, as Wilson produced his worst season of his career, and with no one but Brett Rypien behind him, the Broncos offense never had a chance. Very few teams can produce successful seasons without effective play from the QB position, and this is a fact Broncos Country knows all too well.
Do not expect new Broncos head coach Sean Payton to repeat the mistake of putting all of his eggs in Russell Wilson’s basket, and a familiar name to Broncos fans may just be who Payton has in mind as an insurance policy.
QB Teddy Bridgewater, the Broncos starter through the 2021 season, just finished the 2022 season backing up Tua Tagovailoa for the Miami Dolphins. His contract was for one year and $6.5 million, and while Bridgewater is a native of Miami and could potentially allow a hometown discount to return with a new contract, the Dolphins may want to go in a different direction.
Bridgewater started three games for Miami, throwing for 683 yards, four touchdowns, and four interceptions, but just as they have his entire career, injuries would limit his season. Given the injury history of Tagovailoa, it is logical to assume the Dolphins brass would want to go with a safer backup plan than someone with a similar injury bug. If that is the direction Miami chooses to go, their loss could be Denver’s gain.
Once considered to be the franchise signal caller for the Minnesota Vikings after being named to the All-Rookie team by the Pro Football Writers of America (along with being the Pepsi Rookie of the Year as determined by fans), he had a solid second season before a catastrophic knee injury sidelined both his season and career with the Vikings in 2016.
He has since been working to making his way back to being a starter, and in that role for the Broncos, he arguably became the most effective QB for the team since Peyton Manning. Injuries would slow him down, but for a short time, he looked like he may lead Denver back to the playoffs.
Alas, the wheels fell off during the 2021 season coinciding with Bridgewater’s injury woes, and the Broncos front office would hit reset following the season.
Now, just a year later, it could make sense for the Broncos and Bridgewater to reunite for one simple reason: Sean Payton.
Post-injury, Bridgewater was largely average at best when getting meaningful reps, but there was a small window in which he looked closer to the franchise player Minnesota thought he was when they drafted him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. That window was in 2019, his second season with the Payton-led New Orleans Saints, when he took advantage of an opportunity when starter Drew Brees was was sidelined with an injured thumb.
Coming off the bench in place of Brees in a week two matchup with the Los Angeles Rams, Bridgewater looked rusty, throwing for 165 yards on 17 of 30 attempts in a loss, but over the next five games, the NFL world would be taking notice.
Slowly, Bridgewater began to progress and with each game became less of a game manager and more of true threat at the position. Highlighted by a week five performance in which he threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns on 26 of 34 attempts, Bridgewater would throw for 1,204 yards, nine touchdowns, and two interceptions while completing just shy of 70% of his passes and leading the team to a 5-0 stretch.
Without Bridgewater being able to step in so successfully, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Saints would have missed the playoffs that season. And Sean Payton took notice.
While talking with FOX’s Jay Glazer back in September 2019, Payton told Glazer he views Bridgewater as a starter, not a backup.
“Sean Payton and I are sitting in there before, and I don’t even remember how Teddy came up, but he’s like, ‘Oh he’s a starting quarterback. He’s a legit starting quarterback.’ And it wasn’t him trying to sell me on (Bridgewater), we were just talking about him. So I know how he really feels about him.”
It’s safe to assume Bridgewater and Payton developed more than just a backup QB/head coach relationship as well, given how the two seem to treat/view one another.
Even though Teddy Bridgewater only spent 2 years in New Orleans, he checked in on Sean Payton yesterday to see how he and the team are doing. He also contacted a restaurant owner he’s close with. Told him if he and his family need anything, he’s ready to help out. #classact— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) September 1, 2021
The man who drafted Bridgewater, former Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, is close with Payton and also shared his belief that Payton views the QB as more than just a clipboard holder.
And Zimmer has heard the same story from Payton. He had a hand in bringing Bridgewater into the NFL, helping scout the then-Louisville product, and his Vikings drafted Bridgewater back in 2014. When Bridgewater’s contract with the Saints expired earlier this year, Payton called his old friend for his thoughts on how seriously the Saints should pursue Bridgewater.
“Zimmer has heard the same story from Payton. He had a hand in bringing Bridgewater into the NFL, helping scout the then-Louisville product, and his Vikings drafted Bridgewater back in 2014. When Bridgewater’s contract with the Saints expired earlier this year, Payton called his old friend for his thoughts on how seriously the Saints should pursue Bridgewater. I told him what I think of (Bridgewater),” Zimmer said before this year’s Saints-Vikings preseason game, “When we played him last year, he told me how much he likes Teddy and he said he thinks he’s got the future quarterback in the building.”
Combining Payton’s admiration for Bridgewater, the fact George Paton was a member of the Vikings front office who drafted him, Bridgewater’s solid enough showing in his lone year in Denver, and the fact it is unlikely Payton’s plan is to not have a backup plan in the event Wilson struggles again, the likelihood of a Bridgewater-Broncos 2.0 seems plausible.
As prefaced earlier, though, there are a few things that could stand in the way. Bridgewater’s injury history will be a red flag to any team who would be relying on him to be more than just a warm body, so Denver may want to look to someone who has had more success staying on the field.
Furthermore, Bridgewater may flat out not be interested in a return to Denver. As a Miami native on the back-end of his career, a return trip out west that may not be more than a short-term deal may not be to his liking. He may view staying in Miami on more of a discounted deal more pleasing, and the fact the head coach who gave him the starting position in Denver, Vic Fangio, is now the Dolphins defensive coordinator may play into what happens as well.
Out of all the potential backups next season for Russell Wilson, Bridgewater still makes the most sense, so this is certainly one for Broncos fans to keep an eye on. While not a shoo-in by any means, at the very least expect Payton and his former protege to have a chat about working together again.