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Zulgad: Vikings appear ready to try to pull a fast one on Teddy Bridgewater

By Judd Zulgad

Vikings general manager Rick Spielman long ago mastered the art of being evasive in press conference settings, meaning little to nothing can be gleaned from anything he says.

But in his first meeting with the Twin Cities media since the Vikings were run off the field in the NFC title game in Philadelphia, Spielman on Thursday appeared to hint at the franchise’s plan when it comes to its quarterback situation for 2018.

Let’s just say it’s extremely interesting, somewhat risky and could alienate a player they supposedly love.

With Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater and Sam Bradford all set to have their contracts expire, there already has been plenty of speculation about what Minnesota will do at quarterback in 2018. Some have guessed they will put the franchise tag on Keenum, while attempting to also sign Bridgewater. Others have surmised that maybe Keenum would be signed to a long-term deal and an attempt would be made to have Bradford return as the backup.

The theory here has been that the Vikings remain so enamored with Bridgewater – coach Mike Zimmer raves about him every chance he gets, and Spielman drafted Bridgewater in the first round – that if he appears recovered from the catastrophic knee injury he suffered just before the 2016 season that Bridgewater would be given the starting job.

But what if the Vikings didn’t have to worry about negotiating with Bridgewater at all? (Cue the sinister music here.)

Asked about Bridgewater’s contract status on Thursday, Spielman said: “Right now, he’s technically ready to become a free agent. With the tolling, I know you guys wrote about all that, if it goes into that area, it’s not a Minnesota Viking (decision), that’s an NFL and player union (issue) that will have to decide that area.”

It was written a few months ago that because Bridgewater spent the beginning of the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list (it’s a mandatory six-week stint on the list) that he could have his contract tolled for 2018, meaning he would remain under Vikings’ control for the same salary ($1.354 million) that he got in 2017. (Pro Football Talk reported last spring that the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement contains a provision that states a player’s contract will toll if he remains on the PUP through the sixth game of a season.)

It was assumed, however, that once Bridgewater was activated to the 53-man roster in early November, and began serving as Keenum’s backup, that his contract wouldn’t be tolled. Bridgewater even saw action late in a blowout victory over Cincinnati in December.

So what does the Vikings’ plan appear to be now? Attempting to fill in the many holes that Spielman left with his comments, along with his refusal to elaborate when asked follow ups, here’s the logical conclusion.

The Vikings would love to make the NFL be the bad guy by saying the league tolled Bridgewater’s contract – this would enable the Vikings to claim they had no control – and such a decision also would enable them to slap the franchise tag on Keenum to keep him around.

This season Bradford had a base salary of $14 million and a salary-cap hit of $18 million; Bridgewater’s base salary was $1.354 and his cap hit was $2.179 million; and Keenum’s one-year, $2 million contract paid him a base salary of $950,000 with a cap hit of $1.9 million.

The franchise tag for a quarterback in 2017 was $21.268 million after being $19.953 million in 2016. So let’s say the franchise tag for a QB in 2018 is just over $23 million. That would mean Keenum could be the Vikings’ starter until Zimmer was ready to replace him with Bridgewater, who would have remained under team control at a minimal salary.

Because Bradford would be off the books, the Vikings would absorb a cap hit that would be only about $3 million higher for their top quarterbacks in 2018.

If Bridgewater proved his knee was completely healed, something we’re still not sure about, he could be signed to a long-term deal and Keenum would be shown the door. If Bridgewater’s knee didn’t hold up, then Keenum could be retained on a multi-year deal, if he proves that 2017 wasn’t a fluke.

So how would tolling his contract sit with Bridgewater? One would think he wouldn’t take kindly to it – that would be a heck of a way to show your appreciation for a guy who is supposedly loved by the organization — and the NFL Players Association would fight the decision by filing a grievance.

This could get ugly considering the NFL pushes the NLFPA around at nearly every turn and this would be another example of the type of bullying that should lead to a work stoppage when the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires after the 2020 season.

Spielman provided no details on how tolling Bridgewater’s contract would work, but it would be naïve not to think the Vikings would have to be proactive in making this happen.

One key would be if Bridgewater was cleared by doctors before Week 6 of this past season, but couldn’t return because he was on the PUP. He was given the go-ahead to return to practice on Oct. 16, but told reporters he could have been back sooner. That would seem to favor Bridgewater in his case to hit the open market on March 14.

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith talked to reporters about the matter on Thursday but offered little assistance. He wasn’t sure of what a timeline for a decision would be but it certainly would need to come before free agency. He also said he was unsure of whether the team or league would make him aware if the decision was made to toll Bridgewater’s contract.

It also seems as if this might be a situation where the NFL sides with Bridgewater. A league source told Pro Football Talk in the spring that the league’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.

Nonetheless, it would be advisable for Smith, and Bridgewater, to get up to speed on all of these matters ASAP. Otherwise, the Vikings, with some potential assistance from the NFL, might be about to pull a fast one on a guy they claim to love.

The post Zulgad: Vikings appear ready to try to pull a fast one on Teddy Bridgewater appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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