The Vikings have one of the NFL's most interesting quarterback dilemmas in quite some time. Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum appear to be on the verge of free agency. After Minnesota had four passers under contract for almost all of the season, undrafted rookie Kyle Sloter, who signed a three-year contract in September, is the only quarterback assured of returning in 2018.

Decisions made at the quarterback position could be franchise altering. The direction taken will dramatically affect whether the Vikings can replicate this season's success, which concluded with a disappointing 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship game after going 13-3 to win the NFC North.

Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer wasn't ready to address the quarterback situation at the end-of-season press conference held earlier in the week. A more pressing issue is finding an offensive coordinator to replace Pat Shurmur, who left to become the Giants' new head coach. Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski will be given consideration. Darrell Bevell, who was the Seahawks offensive coordinator for the last seven seasons before his recent firing, will be interviewed. Bevell was Minnesota's offensive coordinator from 2006 through 2010 under Brad Childress. Former Giants head coach Ben McAdoo is also a potential candidate. 

Dissecting 2017

Bradford seemed poised for a big year with good health. He began this season picking up where he left off in 2016, when he set an NFL single-season record with a 71.6 completion percentage and threw for a career high 3,877 yards while getting comfortable with Minnesota's offense on the fly after a surprising trade from the Eagles in the days leading up to the regular-season opener.

Bradford earned NFC Offensive Player of the Week honors after completing 84.4 percent of passes for 346 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening victory over the Saints. He played a total of only six quarters of football this season due to issues with his left knee, having previously suffered two ACL tears. Bradford was put on injured reserve at midseason after a minor arthroscopic procedure on his knee, which didn't reveal any structure damage. He was activated during the playoffs to serve in a backup capacity.

When Keenum signed a one-year, $2 million contract with $250,000 in incentives, which he earned, a month into free agency to backup Bradford, it was thought to be an inconsequential NFL transaction. But the acquisition proved invaluable because of Bradford's knee problems. In 15 games, Keenum threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. He connected on 67.6 percent of his passes, which was second in the NFL, and had the league's seventh-best passer rating at 98.6.

The Vikings were 12-4 with Keenum as a starter, including the postseason. Keenum was named NFC Offensive Player of the Month for November after guiding the Vikings to a 3-0 record by completing 71.1 percent of his passes (69 of 97) for 866 yards with seven touchdowns and two interceptions to post a 114.0 passer rating.

Bridgewater recovered from the gruesome, career-threatening knee injury he suffered at the end of the 2016 preseason, which prompted the Vikings to give the Eagles a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick for Bradford. Minnesota's 2015 starting quarterback was activated from the Physically Unable to Perform list at midseason to be Keenum's backup for the final eight regular-season games. Bridgewater's only game action was mop-up duty in a decisive Week 15 victory over the Bengals. He was relegated to third string during the playoffs when Bradford returned.

Considering Keenum

Keenum changed his career trajectory this season. He's no longer viewed as strictly a quality backup. Keenum's postseason didn't measure up to his regular-season performance, although his 61-yard walk-off touchdown pass against the Saints propelled the Vikings to the NFC title game. Keenum's completion percentage dropped to 60.2 percent, his passer rating was 73.5 and he threw more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two).

Nonetheless, Keenum's salary floor should be the three-year, $45 million deal Mike Glennon signed with the Bears last offseason in free agency as a less-proven commodity. Keenum is also more accomplished than Brock Osweiler was when he received a four-year, $72 million contract containing $37 million fully guaranteed from the Texans in 2016 free agency after just seven rather pedestrian career starts. The average contract packages for expected 2017 starting quarterbacks signed as veterans (i.e.; not under a rookie contract) is approximately $20.4 million per year and contains slightly more than $45.5 million in guarantees. Just under $30.75 million is fully guaranteed at signing with 3.39 years as the average length.

Concern about regression, since it's unknown whether this season has been a true breakout performance for Keenum or an anomaly, could make a transition tag or a non-exclusive franchise designation a distinct possibility, despite a subpar game against the Eagles. The non-exclusive quarterback franchise tag should be $23.307 million with a $178.1 million 2018 salary cap, which is the high end of cap projections given to teams at a December league meeting. The transition designation would give the Vikings a right only to match another team's offer sheet. That tag is expected to be $21.029 million at this cap figure.

Considering Bradford

Bradford was probably going to be in an enviable position had he remained healthy. A contract similar to Derek Carr's ($25 million per year with $70 million in overall guarantees) as a free agent would have been a possibility provided he could have can maintained or improved upon his 2016 performance. Renewed concerns about durability make Bradford a risky proposition. There could be reluctance for any team to commit more to him than his current two-year, $35 million contract (worth up to $40.5 million through salary escalators and incentives) containing $26 million in guarantees, even though he cleared for action in the playoffs.  

It would be smart for interested teams to insist on large annual game-day active roster bonuses in Bradford's contract given his injury history. The per-game amount is payable only if a player is on the 46-man active roster for that particular game. For example, Colin Kaepernick's 2014 extension with the 49ers had $2 million worth of roster bonuses annually. When Kaepernick was put on injured reserve after nine games in 2015, it cost him $875,000 while providing the 49ers financial relief because he didn't earn seven games worth of the roster bonuses. Part of the extension quarterback Aaron Rodgers signed with the Packers in 2013 included $600,000 of annual game-day active roster bonuses ($37,500 per game). Two stints on injured reserved this season have cost Rodgers $337,500 because he didn't collect nine games worth of the roster bonuses.

Considering Bridgewater

The Vikings declined a $12.198 million option for a fifth year with Bridgewater in 2018 because of the uncertainty in his recovery. Bridgewater's situation is more complicated than Bradford or Keenum's. There is a possibility that he could still be under contract in 2018 anyway at his 2017 salary of slightly more than $1.35 million.

The NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement provides for a player's contract to be tolled when placed on PUP in the last year of the deal if he still can't perform football services by the sixth regular-season game. Players who are put on PUP in connection with the roster cutdown, like Bridgewater, aren't eligible to start practicing or come off the list until the week of his team's seventh game.

Bridgewater's health at the sixth game should be the determining factor in whether his rookie contract is extending another year so he doesn't hit the open market until 2019. Returning to practice at the earliest possible instance allowed by PUP rules suggest that the 25 year old was capable of performing football services at an earlier part of the season and will have the same free-agency status as Bradford and Keenum. The NFLPA would surely file an expedited grievance on Bridgewater's behalf asking that he be declared an unrestricted free agent this offseason should tolling apply to him.

Bridgewater hasn't taken any meaningful snaps since 2015, when the Vikings made the playoffs as a wild card with an 11-5 record. He completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 3,231 yards. Bridgewater threw 14 touchdowns passes and nine interceptions. His passer rating was 88.7.

Bridgewater should be the cheapest option assuming tolling doesn't occur. A short-term contract at the top of the compete-for a-starting-quarterback-job range, much like Robert Griffin III signed with the Browns in 2016, could be in order considering he hasn't played in two years. These deals have been topping out at $7 million to $7.5 million per year recently, with performance bonuses that can increase the value to as much $12 million per year.

Another option

The Vikings will be in a salary-cap position to look outside the organization for a quarterback. There should be over $55 million of cap space if the high end of projections are accurate or exceeded. A pursuit of Kirk Cousins would be feasible provided he isn't given a third franchise tag, which would effectively take him off the market because he would be prevented from soliciting an offer sheet from other NFL teams. Signing Cousins will likely require making him the NFL's highest-paid player over Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who signed a five-year, $135-million contract extension with an NFL-record $92 million of overall guarantees during the preseason.

Vikings tendencies

The Vikings are one of the most proactive teams in extending contracts of core players. Linebacker Anthony Barr, wide receiver Stefon Diggs, defensive end Danielle Hunter and linebacker Eric Kendricks are entering a contract year. Some of the cap room will be devoted to their extensions. It remains to be seen who is prioritized for new contracts. Paying a quarterback at the level that will be required for Cousins could ultimately cost the Vikings one or more of these key pieces.

Ideally, the Vikings could combine Bradford's talent with Keenum's health and Bridgewater's youth. Since all three players consider themselves starting quarterbacks, retaining more than one will be a difficult task.

Bradford may be the biggest risk while having also the potential to pay the biggest immediate dividends. Signing a quality veteran backup would also be a necessity since Bradford is a reminder that the best ability sometimes is availability.

Elevating Stefanski to offensive coordinator could be a sign that every effort will be made to keep Keenum for at least the 2018 season. His promotion would ensure continuity of a scheme in which Keenum had success.

Bridgewater's contract tolling would be Minnesota's easiest solution but is far from a certainty. He is more of an unknown quantity than Bradford or Keenum at this point. Bridgewater being the quarterback of choice when Zimmer first became Vikings head coach in 2014 shouldn't be ignored. Minnesota traded 2014 second- and fourth-round picks to move back into bottom of the first round to get him.