No one has been reporting anything about the free-agency status of Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. Primarily because there’s nothing to report. Primarily because no one is saying anything about it.
Here’s the issue: The Collective Bargaining Agreement plainly states that, when a player in the final year of his contract is physically unable to perform as of the sixth game of the season, the contract tolls for a year. This language applies to Bridgewater, who tore an ACL in August 2016, missed all of that season on injured reserve, and then missed the first six games of 2017 while on the PUP list.
If tolling applies, Bridgewater will be under contract for 2018, at the same $1.3 million salary he received in 2017.
In the days prior to the Super Bowl, Vikings G.M. Rick Spielman characterized the issue as a league matter, and for good reason. The Vikings don’t want to be perceived, by their fans or their players, as sticking it to Bridgewater, who remains universally beloved in and out of the locker room.
When asked recently a general question about the procedures and protocols that would be utilized to toll the contract and then to challenge it (which is what Bridgewater would do), NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said this: “Will let you know when we have something.”
From the union’s perspective, there’s also no real clarity, primarily because there’s no clear procedure for dealing with a situation that rarely arises. It’s possible that the NFL/Vikings could sit on the issue until the end of the league year, announce that the contract has tolled, and force Bridgewater to launch the process of fighting the issue as the market for his services otherwise opens.
Absent an effort by the NFL Players Association or Bridgewater to force the issue (which hasn’t started yet), the cloud will linger over Bridgewater’s looming free agency until the team or the league make a move.
The current thinking is that the team and the league likely won’t do it. Apart from a threshold argument that past precedent makes tolling applicable only if the player misses the entire season (despite what the CBA says), Bridgewater and the NFLPA probably would attempt to show that Bridgewater was healthy enough to be cleared to play as of Week One, making his placement on the PUP list at the opening of the season improper.
If that sounds familiar, it should. Last week, an arbitrator found that the Bengals improperly placed quarterback A.J. McCarron on the non-football injury list as of Week One of the 2014 season, clearing his path to unrestricted free agency. The league, which rarely loses legal matters, may not have the appetite to risk losing another one so quickly, especially if there’s any doubt regarding the manner in which an arbitrator would view the documents and testimony of the doctor who decided not to clear Bridgewater, allowing them to essentially stash him while carrying only Sam Bradford and Case Keenum on the 53-man roster to start the season.
Currently, Bradford and Keenum are due to become unrestricted free agents. Whether Bridgewater joins them may be determined not by any specific action, but by inaction that lingers for the next 18 days.