But from this day forward this franchise needs a starting-caliber quarterback to step in – possibly for an entire season or more. Winston’s three-game suspension means that he is one misstep away from a yearlong suspension, which would certainly mean his banishment from Tampa Bay.
Believe in Winston – but be prepared.
One more mistake would mean the Bucs and Licht – if he’s still here and survives a possible Winston implosion – would be searching for the team’s next franchise quarterback (again), unless he’s already on the roster.
I’m not saying Bridgewater is a franchise-caliber quarterback, especially after a gruesome knee injury that cost him the entire 2016 and majority of the ’17 season. That injury coupled with the rise of backup Case Keenum and the subsequent acquisition of Kirk Cousins in free agency made Bridgewater, the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2014, expendable in Minnesota.
The Louisville product signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets this offseason where he is currently third on the depth chart behind first-round pick Sam Darnold and veteran backup Josh McCown. He passed a physical in New York, which is a good sign as he tries to rebuild his NFL career at age 26 with a surgically rebuilt knee.
The knock in Bridgewater coming out of college was his frailty and his thin, 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame. After starting 28 games in his first two years, those concerns seemed to wane, but a gruesome knee injury in the 2016 offseason wound up validating them in the end.
Before his injury, Bridgewater completed 551-of-851 passes (64.7 percent) for 6,150 yards with 28 touchdowns and 22 interceptions and an 86.3 QB rating.
As a rookie, Bridgewater started 12 of the 13 games he played in, going 6-6 and completing 259-of-402 (64.4 percent) passes for 2,919 yards with 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for an 85.2 QB rating. One of those wins came at Tampa Bay in a 19-13 overtime victory in which Bridgewater completed 24-of-42 passes for 241 yards (57.1 percent) with one touchdown and no interceptions.
Former Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater – Photo by: Getty Images
In his second year, Bridgewater helped lead the Vikings to an 11-5 record and the playoffs after he completed 292-of-447 (65.3 percent) of his passes for 3,231 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He posted a career-high 88.7 QB rating, and like any young quarterback, benefited from turning around and handing the ball off to Adrian Peterson, who rushed for 1,485 yards and 11 touchdowns that year.
In a crushing 10-9 playoff loss against Seattle, Bridgewater completed 17-of-24 passes (70.8 percent) for 146 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. The Vikings surrendered a 9-0 lead after three quarters and kicker Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard field goal with 22 seconds left.
Bridgewater made the Pro Bowl that year and completed 6-of-8 (75 percent) passes for 129 yards with two touchdowns and one interception in that game, which would be his last until December 17 of last year when he was inserted into a 34-7 blowout win against Cincinnati and was 0-of-2 with one interception.
Bridgewater is nearly seven months beyond that game and eager to show that he is healthy and has starter potential.
Licht has never been afraid of taking a gamble, whether it was on Winston and his character questions with the No. 1 overall pick in 2015, or drafting kicker Roberto Aguayo in the second round the next year. Taking a chance and acquiring Bridgewater now – before he has a chance to impress in the preseason and draws interest from other teams that may also need a quarterback – is worth it.
If Licht can burn a second-round pick on a kicker, why not try to flip a fourth-rounder for a quarterback that might have the potential to be a long-term starter option? Start by offering the Jets a fifth-round pick, and then move up to a fourth-rounder if they balk.
For New York, it can easily make a fourth-round pick just from signing Bridgewater in the offseason. With Darnold as the long-term No. 1 QB and McCown as the backup this year, Bridgewater is likely set to leave in 2019 if he has a good preseason because he only signed a one-year deal. Why not take the draft pick?
The worst-case scenario for Licht and the Bucs should they make the trade is that Bridgewater looks awful in the preseason and just doesn’t have the mobility and the confidence to play quarterback in the league anymore. If that’s the case, Tampa Bay is out a fourth- or a fifth-round pick next year.
The best-case scenario is that Bridgewater lights it up and outplays Ryan Griffin in the preseason. That could prompt the Bucs to throw some money at Bridgewater and sign him to a multi-year extension to justify spending a draft pick to acquire him. For Bridgewater, seeing Winston miss three games last year due to injury and three games this year due to a suspension, it’s not far-fetched to sense an opportunity and that there could be an opportunity in Tampa Bay.
Former Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater – Photo by: Getty Images
Bridgewater could give the Bucs a better, more talented backup in 2019 when Ryan Fitzpatrick retires and when Griffin’s contract is up. If Winston succumbs to another bad character issue and is jettisoned after being suspended, the Bucs would have a young, experienced quarterback waiting in the wings to step in immediately and save the season – if not the front office.
Then the Bucs could invest a top pick in a quarterback to challenge Bridgewater for the starting job without having to commit to starting a rookie. At the very least in this scenario, Bridgewater could serve as a bridge until the next drafted Bucs QB is ready to take the reins of the offense.
If after a couple of years Bridgewater seems ready to move on and Winston seems stable and more mature as he settles into family life and sobriety, then Licht could always draft another quarterback and deal Bridgewater for a higher draft pick than he originally invested in him.
The quarterback position is the most important in football, and for the 2018 campaign in Tampa Bay it seems like it’s in decent shape for the upcoming season. As for 2019 and beyond, the future looks hazy. Trading for Bridgewater now before his trade value potential escalates in the preseason would be one step in clearing up the Bucs’ big picture at quarterback.
Scott Reynolds is in his 25th year of covering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the vice president, publisher and senior Bucs beat writer for PewterReport.com. Author of the popular SR's Fab 5 column on Fridays, Reynolds oversees web development and forges marketing partnerships for PewterReport.com in addition to his editorial duties. A graduate of Kansas State University in 1995, Reynolds spent six years giving back to the community as the defensive line coach for his sons' Pop Warner team, the South Pasco Predators. Reynolds can be reached at: email@example.com
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