Where he will end up is hard to peg after talking with multiple sources and team reporters and hearing various coaches and general managers speak at this week’s NFL scouting combine.
With less than three weeks remaining before the start of free agency, there is still a ton of intrigue and uncertainty surrounding which teams will actually be looking for a new starting quarterback in 2020. And this could be a rare offseason when supply outweighs demand.
So the possibilities for Bridgewater, 27, range from replacing Tom Brady if he really leaves the New England Patriots to replacing Jameis Winston with the rival Tampa Bay Buccaneers to replacing Philip Rivers with the Los Angeles Chargers to being left out of a starting gig entirely in this high-stakes game of musical chairs.
So where does that leave Bridgewater? Here is a look at the landscape:
How much will Bridgewater cost?
Nick Foles and Case Keenum seem like decent comps from recent years (Foles signed a four-year, $88 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2019 and Keenum signed a two-year, $36 million deal with the Denver Broncos in 2018). Bridgewater could potentially exceed that range when you throw in QB salary inflation -- especially if there is a bidding war.
However, Bridgewater could also come cheaper because teams have so many more choices than usual.
Teams that want to shoot for star players could pay up for Brady, Rivers or Winston. And teams that want to save money could target someone like Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota -- or Foles and Keenum themselves (Dalton and Foles would need to be acquired via trade).
It’s also important to note that this is Bridgewater’s third straight year as an unrestricted free agent, and he didn’t have many suitors the first two times. (He signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets in 2018 worth $6 million plus incentives before being traded to New Orleans.) Obviously his value is higher now, though, after his 5-0 stretch with the Saints -- and now that he is further removed from a devastating 2016 knee injury that scared some teams away.
What kind of quarterback will teams get?
Fairly or not, the 32nd pick in the 2014 draft is often pegged as a “game manager.” But Bridgewater has been a very successful one, winning games without gaudy statistics.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pounder was more solid than spectacular in his five starts with the Saints, averaging 241 passing yards per game. He completed 69.7% of his passes with nine touchdowns, two interceptions and a 103.7 passer rating.
It was a similar story when he led the Minnesota Vikings to an 11-5 record and the playoffs during his second year in the league in 2015, averaging 202 passing yards per game with only 14 TDs and nine interceptions.
Bridgewater ranked dead last with just 5.80 air yards per attempt in 2019 among 46 NFL quarterbacks with at least 75 attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2015, he ranked 45th with 6.66 air yards per attempt.
But Bridgewater keeps his teams out of trouble. Coach Sean Payton has praised him for having the right “demeanor” and poise for the position. His leadership traits and locker room fit are unquestioned.
And he did show that he’s capable of airing it out once in a while when he threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns last season against a team that surely took note -- the Buccaneers.
Which teams might want him?
Buccaneers: This is actually the team that came up most in speculation among people I talked to at the combine. Although Bridgewater seems to go against coach Bruce Arians’ “no risk it, no biscuit” approach, Arians has made no secret that Winston’s 30 interceptions in 2019 were unacceptable. And he has left open the possibility that the Bucs will consider alternatives in free agency for a team that is ready to contend now with star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and a rising defense.
Patriots: ESPN’s Jeff Darlington said Thursday that he is now at the point where he would be stunned if Brady went back to New England. If that’s the case, this could be an ideal landing spot. It’s easy to envision Bridgewater in the same type of offense that Brady has run in recent years. And he would be flanked by one of the NFL’s best defenses and maybe the best coach of all time. However, it’s unclear if the Patriots would be willing to make a big investment in a veteran quarterback. They might be more interested in retooling for the first time in two decades around 2019 rookie Jarrett Stidham.
Chargers: This is one of the few teams on this list that will absolutely make a QB change after announcing plans to part ways with Rivers. And the Chargers are another team with enough talent on both sides of the ball to contend for a playoff spot in 2020, which should make them attractive to Bridgewater. But so far, most of the speculation has been that L.A. will either look to make a splash with Brady or stick with its own veteran backup, Tyrod Taylor, while targeting a quarterback in the draft.
Indianapolis Colts: The Colts should be high on Bridgewater’s wish list. Another playoff-ready team with a terrific offensive line, a QB-friendly coach in Frank Reich, some young building blocks on defense and a ton of salary-cap space. But there has been more speculation that Indy might target Rivers because of his connection with Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni -- or that the Colts might stick with veteran Jacoby Brissett while looking to draft a future replacement.
Las Vegas Raiders: Another team that has been linked to Brady, the Raiders will at least consider the idea of replacing quarterback Derek Carr. But would they consider Bridgewater a substantial upgrade? Coach Jon Gruden will no doubt get a strong endorsement from his close friend Payton. But general manager Mike Mayock was hard on Bridgewater during the 2014 draft process, saying he didn’t think he had enough of an “it factor."
Miami Dolphins: Bridgewater’s hometown team is the one team on this list that we know for sure likes him, since they tried to woo him in free agency last year. (He spurned them in part because they were in too much of a rebuilding mode.) Now they’re a more attractive destination after showing progress in 2019, and they have three first-round draft picks to build around. However, they seem intent on using that capital to draft a QB. And they already have a veteran “bridge QB” they like in Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Chicago Bears: Bridgewater would be a perfect fit for a playoff-caliber team with a terrific defense. But so far the Bears have insisted they plan to stick with fourth-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky despite his struggles. And if they do change course, maybe they would get in the Brady sweepstakes before turning to Bridgewater.
Washington Redskins: They will most likely stick with second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins. But new coach Ron Rivera said they’re keeping all options open. And offensive coordinator Scott Turner has a good relationship with Bridgewater from their days together in Minnesota.
Carolina Panthers: Another NFC South rival that would have made sense if they decided to move on from Cam Newton -- especially since new offensive coordinator Joe Brady worked with Bridgewater in New Orleans. But new Panthers coach Matt Rhule said he “absolutely” wants Newton on the roster. And the rebuilding Panthers might also draft a top quarterback.