Ross Jackson

Many Sides of the Teddy Bridgewater Decision

It was announced this morning that Teddy Bridgewater will start at QB against the Carolina Panthers in the Saints season finale. He’ll start for the first time since 2015 after missing the entire 2016 season with a catastrophic knee injury. Since returning to the NFL, he’s only played in five games and thrown three passes, none of which were completed.

Apropos the announcement, a conversation broke out in the ASC group chat regarding whether or not he should re-sign with New Orleans. Many different opinions were presented so I thought it might be interesting to try my best to present all sides. The fun thing about this is that the possibilities extend beyond simply re-signing or leaving. But we’ll start with the basics.

Re-signing with New Orleans

This is just about every Saints fan’s hope, mine included. I was a big proponent in the idea of bringing him to New Orleans. So when the Saints made their move to get him in the Black and Gold, I was understandably hype. There are lots of good reasons to stick around in NOLA after this year for Bridgewater.

  • A plethora of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball.

  • One of the best offensive lines in football.

  • Remain he heir-apparent to Drew Brees.

  • A young and ever-improving defense.

  • The most brilliant offensive mind in football with Coach Sean Payton.

  • Stick with a team that’s made the playoffs two consecutive seasons.

  • Staying and playing in one of the most beloved US cities.

  • Eight games in front of an unparalleled fan base. (Plus playoffs)

  • Choppa Style

However, there are just a couple of fundamental things lacking from the Saints pitch packet.

  • Won’t get a huge contract, but might have to take a long-term deal to increase chances of starting.

  • Will have to wait another season, possibly two, before he can start.

Depending on how Bridgewater’s performance goes on Sunday, it’s likely that he’ll attract multiple suitors come the offseason. With that, QB-needy teams like Washington, Jacksonville, Tampa Bay, Miami, and Tennessee should come a’ callin’. The Titans are expected to have over the league average salary available – likely around $44M. All of the other teams I mentioned are below the average but things will shift and change as the offseason progresses and the salary cap raises to a reported $187M – $191.1M, up at least $10M from 2018.

Signing Elsewhere

  • Take the largest contract offer.

  • Become an immediate starter.

  • Chance to choose destination depending on number of offers.

  • Take the largest amount of guaranteed money.

The final point there is the sell for me if I’m Bridgewater. The 2019 QB draft class is drier than my knees with Justin Herbert remaining at Oregon for his senior year and the Free Agency pool won’t be much more rich with talent. Bridgewater should be one of the top free agents this offseason, which gives him leverage in an otherwise baron collection of QBs. With that leverage and considering his injury history, I would follow the guaranteed money. With what we’ve seen this season with Le’Veon Bell’s extensive holdout, there’s some precedence regarding the importance of player protection in the world of contracts. Being that Bridgewater has been healthy for two years now and hopefully performs well in Sunday’s audition, he should be able to lock up a contract that offers some guaranteed cash in case things were to unfortunately go sideways again. However, there are some cons to this choice.

  • Less offensive weaponry.

  • Of the teams I mentioned above, four of the five are going to finish 2018 with an even or losing record.

  • Miami and Tampa Bay have weaker defenses than New Orleans

  • Lesser offensive lines.

  • Weaker home-field advantage.

  • A fanbase that won’t understand the significance of the Choppa Style dance.

Now that we’ve talked guaranteed money, let’s look at some other nuances that could be options in 2019 for Bridgewater and New Orleans. These are specifically scenarios in which the Saints retain Teddy Two-Gloves, at least through the Free Agency period and the benefits are that of the Saints Organization.

Extending Before Free Agency

I think this would be one of the ideal situations for New Orleans. Extending Bridgewater before the next league year begins means that they can avoid a bidding war, negotiate without external pressure, and move for a friendly contract. They can also put guaranteed money in place for 2019 when he won’t play much with Brees also likely to return. That arrangement would lessen the risk of injury even though his 2016 injury happened in practice, making the agreement worth it. This also allows the Saints to lock him in to the roster before the salary cap raises and Free Agency begins, allowing them to know what they’ve got before starting to spend.

  • Avoid bidding war with other offers.

  • Negotiate friendly contract for both sides.

Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag

This could be interesting. The QB franchise tag is set to be around $25M next season. This would be considerably more expensive for New Orleans as Bridgewater’s market, save over-spenders resetting it, should be around Case Keenum’s (who is four years older) $16M-$18M a year including bonuses and such. That’s still a hefty price to pay a backup QB, but it’s worth it if that player is set to be the future of your franchise. That tag price, though, is hefty regardless. Could the Saints afford it? Sure. At the risk of losing out on some Free Agents like Mark Ingram, P.J. Williams, and Josh Hill. I expect all three of them to walk anyway, though. Perhaps Hill hangs around.

What makes the Franchise Tag worth it is going Non-Exclusive as opposed to Exclusive. Exclusive Franchise Tags don’t allow the tagged player to receive offers from other teams. This is the tag that also causes a ton of hostility for other positions, but because the QB tag is so high- I doubt Bridgewater would take issue. Meanwhile, the Non-Exclusive Tag means that the player can negotiate and, if offered, the Saints would have the chance to match the offer to keep him or reject doing so and receive two first-round picks from the signing team. This effectively turns Bridgewater into a RFA allowing the Saints to gauge his market before signing him to a full-on deal, which would be much lower than the $25M price tag.

  • Safely test the market with right of first refusal.

  • Receive draft picks if another team’s offer can’t be matched.

  • Retain Bridgewater at a low cost if his market doesn’t come calling.

Transition Tag

This would be the lesser version of the Non-Exclusive Franchise Tag. While it would likely be $2M – $3M cheaper, the same rules apply. Bridgewater would be able to receive offers from other teams and the Saints would get the option to match over seven days time. However, in this scenario if they couldn’t match an offer, no draft picks would come to New Orleans as compensation.

  • Safely test the market with right of first refusal

  • Retain Bridgewater at a low cast if his market doesn’t come calling.

Sign and Trade

Saints fans tend to hate this possibility, but I always bring it up. There is the possibility, whether via extension, Free Agency, or the Franchise Tag, that New Orleans retains Teddy Bridgewater and then sends him off to the highest bidder in a trade. Again, the QB market is weak and Bridgewater should be on top or least near it. That means that New Orleans could get a sizable amount of compensation for his services. Likely to take on some dead money here, the Saints would have to be selective of how they proceed and what that compensation may be. But it’s reasonable to expect a potential first-round pick to come their way for a team like Miami or Tennessee who’ve won enough games to be out of reach of the lesser-talented QBs available in the draft. We know that the Saints love to be active on Draft Day. This could be right up their alley.

  • Bring in a haul of draft picks.

  • Add an established player at a position of need.

All-in-all, as I mentioned before, I hope to see Bridgewater in New Orleans for the foreseeable future. He’s a premier talent who, in a system like Sean Payton’s, could grow even more. Everything about him screams New Orleans from the highly-acclaimed Choppa Style dance to his social media presence (for which Saints players are known), and his antics like filming the final moments of the New Orleans at New York Giants game with a television camera. All of that along with his chemistry with Saints players, consistently being at Brees’s side, and his confidence make him an excellent candidate to step into some large shoes. The matter of how the Saints retain him isn’t limited as they have quite a few options.

How he performs on Sunday could make a world of difference for his market, but the most important thing is that he stay healthy and turn in a full game. If he does that, he becomes desirable no matter his performance which could make it tough for the Saints front office. Despite that though, I believe they’ll do what they can to keep him in New Orleans. Let’s not forget that Loomis and Payton made the move to get Bridgewater to New Orleans for a reason. That reason likely wasn’t only to backup Brees for a year.

Follow Ross on Twitter @RossJacksonASC