The New Orleans Saints have acquired quarterback Teddy Bridgewater in a trade with the New York Jets, ESPN's Adam Schefter first reported Wednesday.
Achefter is reporting that the Saints will send a third-round pick to the Jets for Bridgewater and a sixth-round pick in a move that helps them recoup part of what they traded away to move up for 2018 first-round pick Sam Darnold, who is now the Jets' presumed starter.
For weeks, the Bridgewater trade rumors had flown around following a string of impressive preseason performances for the former first-round pick who was allowed to walk in free agency by the Minnesota Vikings this offseason. The Jets wisely signed Bridgewater to a one-year deal with only $1 million guaranteed, but it paid off in his strong play — less than two years removed from a career-threatening knee injury.
Bridgewater had completed 28-of-38 passes (73.7 percent) for 316 yards with two TDs, one interception and four sacks taken in three games. The Jets appear committed to making Darnold their Week 1 starter, and there was no immediate room for both Bridgewater and $10 million backup Josh McCown on the roster.
Signing Bridgewater could go down as one of GM Mike Maccagnan's more shrewd moves after the team missed out on free agent Kirk Cousins. The Jets in essence paid Bridgewater's $1 million as a down payment on a 2019 third-rounder. That's a bargain.
For context, Washington and the Cleveland Browns each landed starting quarterbacks for third-round picks this offseason in Alex Smith and Tyrod Taylor, respectively. Smith could be a multi-year starter for the team, and Taylor is expected to hold off Baker Mayfield as this year's starter for the forseeable future.
A first-round pick in 2014, Bridgewater started 28 games over his first two seasons and helped lead the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015. He completed 551-of-851 passes (64.7 percent) for 6,150 yards with 28 TDs and 22 interceptions, also rushing 91 times for 401 yards and four scores.
A major knee injury suffered in August 2016 — one that nearly cost him his life — landed Bridgewater on injured reserve that season and delayed his comeback until a triumphant return to the field late in Minnesota's Week 15 victory over the Bengals. That Bridgewater's first pass was intercepted was but a side note; returning to the field after such a devastating injury was a massive victory in and of itself.
The Vikings allowed Bridgewater, Case Keenum and Sam Bradford to all walk in free agency, opting instead to sign Kirk Cousins for big money to be their starter. Bridgewater's free-agency courtship was limited, and he accepted a prove-it deal with the Jets. So far, it appears that he's proving doubters wrong.
The Saints, meanwhile, passed up the chance to draft Drew Brees' potential successor this year after trading up for pass rusher Marcus Davenport. Veteran QBs Tom Savage and Taysom Hill have produced mixed results this preseason, and undrafted rookie J.T. Barrett hasn't yet shown he's ready.
The Saints will now pay Bridgewater’s $5 million base salary for 2018, and he's a free agent following this season. The Saints would need to find a way to keep him and Brees locked up for this move likely to bear major fruit, but it feels like more of a short-term upgrade with the chance to revisit things in a six months. Cutting Brees in the offseason would cost the Saints $21 million in dead money.
Now the Saints will not have first- or third-round picks in 2019 and appear to be going all in on a Super Bowl title this season. If Brees gets hurt and Bridgewater helps pick up the slack, it also could prove to be a savvy move by Sean Payton and the Saints' front office.
But if Bridgewater doesn't play a snap behind a future Hall of Fame QB, the Saints fall short of their title dreams this year and Bridgewater leaves via free agency to find a more immediate starting opportunity, it certainly could end up backfiring for what feels like a steep cost in the short term.
Still, if Bridgewater only played this year for the Saints and left via free agency next spring — entering his age-26 season — for starter-caliber money, New Orleans could recoup some value in the form of a 2020 third-round compensatory pick. Factoring in the value of what they gave up minus that 2020 selection, perhaps the Saints' long-term cost isn't that high after all.
The only problem is that they'd be back in the same place they've been for a long time: in the market to find Brees' eventual replacement through other means.