Brees' torn thumb ligament means NFL's highest-paid backup is now the starter for the Saints
In March, the New Orleans Saints made Teddy Bridgewater the highest-paid backup quarterback in the NFL. With Drew Brees now sidelined for at least the next six weeks, the Saints (1-1) will find out what kind of return they will get on their investment.
Brees suffered a thumb injury in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Rams when his hand made contact with defensive tackle Aaron Donald's hand after throwing a pass. After the game, the fear was that he had torn a ligament in his thumb on his throwing hand, a diagnosis that was confirmed by a hand specialist.
Brees is scheduled to undergo thumb surgery on Wednesday and is expected to miss anywhere from six to eight weeks. His absence could be longer, depending on the surgery, his recovery, and whether New Orleans places him on injured reserve.
With Brees out for the foreseeable future, the Saints will turn to Bridgewater, who is no stranger to dealing with significant injuries. A first-round pick (No. 32 overall) in the 2014 NFL Draft by Minnesota, Bridgewater showed promise in his first two seasons before suffering a horrific, non-contact knee injury in practice on Aug. 30, 2016.
The damage to Bridgewater's knee was so severe that the original prognosis was the recovery would take as long as 19 months. As a result, Bridgewater missed all of the 2016 season and started the '17 campaign on the physically unable to play (PUP) list. But finally, in Week 15 (Dec. 12, 2017), Bridgewater made his return to the field, replacing starter Case Keenum in the fourth quarter of the Vikings' eventual 34-7 win at home over Cincinnati.
Minnesota declined the fifth-year option on Bridgewater's rookie contract prior to the 2017 season, which made him a free agent. In March 2018, he signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets, only to be traded to the Saints prior to the start of the season. New Orleans sent a third-round pick in the 2019 draft to New York for Bridgewater and a sixth-round selection that year.
As the backup to Brees, Bridgewater saw limited action in 2018 until starting the regular-season finale against Carolina as the Saints had already wrapped up the top seed in the NFC playoff bracket. Against the Panthers, Bridgewater completed 14-of-22 passes for 118 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in a 33-14 loss.
A free agent once again after the season, several times showed an interesting in signing Bridgewater. Among those was Miami, which offered him a chance to start. But Bridgewater turned down the Dolphins and all other suitors to return to the Saints on a one-year deal. New Orleans gave Bridgewater $7.25 million fully guaranteed to make him the highest-paid backup QB in the NFL.
On Sunday, Bridgewater entered the game late in the first quarter following the injury to Brees. He went on to complete 17-of-30 passes for 165 yards. He was sacked twice but didn't turn the ball over. The Saints lost to the Rams 27-9 but the focus is more on how this offense will look moving forward, starting with Sunday's game in Seattle.
Bridgewater hasn't gotten much game action with the Saints' first-team offense because of Brees' durability, but he has been with the franchise for more than a year and clearly the team is comfortable with him given the contract.
Head coach Sean Payton will no doubt cater the offense to fit more of Bridgewater's skill set and strengths, and don't be surprised if the versatile Taysom Hill is a bigger part of the game plan. One thing Bridgewater potentially brings to the table is more mobility than Brees offers. Bridgewater was known for his running ability in college and he showed that in his first two seasons in Minnesota, averaging 3.8 yards per carry with four rushing touchdowns.
Obviously, things have changed since he tore up his knee in 2016 but now more than three years removed from the injury, Bridgewater's mobility should help him as he takes over the Saints offense.
Bridgewater won't have much time to get his footing, however, as New Orleans' next two games are on the road against Seattle and then home vs. Dallas for "Sunday Night Football" in Week 4. It won't be easy for Bridgewater to replace a future Hall of Famer like Brees, but the team clearly thinks he's up to the task.
Besides, it could be worse. Bridgewater could be in Miami.