The 2016 Minnesota Vikings, based on what coach Mike Zimmer and general manager Rick Spielman have said this week, will have Adrian Peterson at the forefront of their offense. Whether the 2017 Vikings will is another matter entirely.
Peterson will turn 32 before that season, and his 2017 contract -- with its $18 million cap figure and $6 million roster bonus -- is constructed in such a way that the Vikings will likely have to do something about it, either restructuring the deal or moving on from him. Even if Peterson has a blockbuster 2016, it's hard to imagine the Vikings leaving an $18 million cap figure intact with big bills looming for players like safety Harrison Smith, cornerback Xavier Rhodes and possibly a left tackle, whether that's Matt Kalil or his replacement.
It stands to reason, then, that by the end of Teddy Bridgewater's third season the Vikings will want to knoew whether he can carry the offense. Bridgewater played nobly behind a rickety offensive line last season, throwing only nine interceptions while under frequent pressure and posting incremental improvements over his rookie numbers. As Bridgewater put it at the end of the season, "[With] what was asked of my position, I think we did a good job."
Still, there were not-infrequent calls from Zimmer to his quarterback throughout the season -- to play freer, to not worry so much about making a mistake, to be more assertive about what he wanted in the game plan. Both Zimmer and Spielman repeated those themes at the NFL combine this week, and Zimmer's final comment about his quarterback in Indianapolis came close to being a mission statement.
"At the end of the day, if I come back next year, if I"m still here, what I want to say is, 'Man, Teddy really took over this offense. He was really in charge of everything he did here. He took charge of the league,'" Zimmer said Thursday. "Whatever that means. If it's getting us in the right place, if it's throwing the ball more, if it's throwing the ball less. Just taking charge of this thing. It's going to be his baby eventually."
Zimmer referred to Bridgewater as a "pleaser" again Thursday, as he often does, and you get the sense he wouldn't mind if Bridgewater let go of that habit somewhat. He told reporters about a time when he addressed Bridgewater in front of the team, spelling out exactly what he wanted from the quarterback. That day in practice, there was a hint of obsequiousness from the 23-year-old, which Zimmer thought might have been Bridgewater's way of delivering a subtle dose of defiance.
"You know, maybe it was his way of saying, 'OK, Coach -- this is what you want.' For that practice, he gave me exactly what I want -- to an overabundance," Zimmer said. "So, that was his way of saying, 'Here you go.' It's kind of good. He has to be able to [have] that thing like -- I don't want to say it -- like, 'Screw you. This is what you want; here.' So I'm kind of glad he did it."
It's clear Zimmer doesn't mind getting under his quarterback's skin, if that's what it takes. Bridgewater is never going to be showy, but those who have been around him know he has a groundswell of self-assurance. It's time, the Vikings believe, for Bridgewater to show it and take command of the offense.
"Teddy is a tremendous kid. He’s a big-time pleaser. He knows we don’t want to turn the ball over," Zimmer said. "But sometimes I think he has that subconscious thing in his mind, where he doesn’t want to hurt the team, where there are times when he can help the team.
"I told him one time during the season, ‘Teddy, I know you know I don’t want you to throw interceptions and I know you don’t want to turn the ball over. But we play pretty good defense, and if, you know, a ball gets tipped or something, don’t worry about it. Just go out and play and be yourself.’ And I think that’s when he plays the best, when he just goes out and plays.”