With the Vikings not picking up the fifth-year option on quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s 2014 first-round contract, he’s due to become a free agent in 2018. Unless his contract tolls by a year.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement contains a provision that plainly states the contract will toll if he remains on the Physically Unable to Perform through the sixth game of the 2017 regular season. With Bridgewater still recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered last August, a decision to leave him on the PUP list at the start of the regular season guarantees that he’ll be on PUP for the first six games, because: (1) the window to exit PUP doesn’t open until after Week Six; and (2) the Vikings don’t have a bye in the first six weeks of the season.
Given that a tolled contract means Bridgewater would be bound to the Vikings for two straight years at $1.354 million (his 2017 base salary), Bridgewater and the NFL Players Association will be ready to challenge a PUP designation by the team, if Bridgewater and the union believe he can pass a physical. The stakes will be high and the feelings could get raw; as one source with knowledge of the situation explained it to PFT, a disagreement could lead to a “huge” battle, with the NFL and the Vikings on one side and the NFLPA and Bridgewater on the other.
Said Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman on Friday’s PFT Live: “We know the rule very well. We’ve talked to the Management Council, we understand everything that’s involved with it, but again it’s something from a contractual standpoint that I’d rather not comment on. But there are specific rules there, and we’re quite aware of what the rules are.”
Here’s where the situation morphs from potentially contentious to flat-out confusing. A league source tells PFT that the NFL’s Management Council has interpreted the relevant language of the CBA in past cases to require the player to spend the entire year on the PUP list in order to toll the contract. PFT has asked both the NFL (multiple times) and the Vikings whether that contention is accurate, and there has been no response from either the league or the team.
The silence invites speculation as to whether the Vikings and/or the NFL intend to interpret the provision as written moving forward, reducing the tolling threshold from a full year to six games. And why wouldn’t they take that position? It’s a management-friendly right the league has secured at the bargaining table. The notion that the Management Council has interpreted the language in a way that provides a gratuity to the players makes no sense.
Regardless of whether Bridgewater must spend six weeks or the full year on PUP, a disagreement could be looming that could eventually poison the relationship between player and team, if it’s not handled properly by everyone involved.