Mike Zimmer 'proud' of former Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater: 'It was a pretty bleak outlook for him'

When Teddy Bridgewater turned down a chance to serve as the Dolphins' bridge quarterback to remain in New Orleans as Drew Brees' backup, it was all too easy to be disappointed in Bridgewater's decision and to criticize his reluctance to take the only starting opportunity that was available to him, even though it was with arguably the worst team in football. It wasn't too long ago, before a knee injury drastically altered the trajectory of his career, that Bridgewater guided the Vikings to the playoffs as a starter. So then, why was he -- fully healthy again -- settling for a backup job? 

But thinking in those terms is a disservice to Bridgewater and everything he's already accomplished to simply get back to the point where a perennial Super Bowl contender like the Saints is willing to invest heavily in him as their insurance policy at quarterback. 

Just take it from Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who put into perspective just how remarkable it is that Bridgewater is still playing in the NFL. Ahead of the Vikings-Saints preseason game on Friday night, Zimmer reflected on the improbable comeback his former quarterback has already completed. Zimmer might be prepared to treat Bridgewater like any other quarterback on Thursday, but that doesn't change how "proud of him" he is.

"I am proud of him. For him to be able to come back from the type of injury that he had and still be playing in the NFL, our statistics when the injury happened, it was a pretty bleak outlook for him. That's the kind of kid he is," Zimmer said Wednesday, per ESPN's Courtney Cronin. "I actually talked to Sean Payton today and he said he's the same guy, no restrictions, doing well. And Teddy is a competitor. He's going to try to stick it to us just like we're going to try to stick it to him."

Bridgewater, the final pick in the first round of the 2014 draft, started 28 games during the first two years of his career, taking the Vikings to the playoffs in 2015. The Vikings entered the 2016 season as contenders, but on the eve of the season, Bridgewater went down with a gruesome knee injury. At the time, it was reported that the injury could result in the end of his football career. Based on the comments Zimmer made on Wednesday, it sounds like those reports weren't inaccurate.

Bridgewater wasn't able to return until late in the 2017 season when he actually managed to take a few meaningful reps. As the Vikings moved forward in the offseason with Kirk Cousins, Bridgewater wound up in New York with the Jets before the Jets decided to draft Sam Darnold, which resulted in Bridgewater's move to New Orleans just before the season. With the Saints, Bridgewater took the next step in his comeback, starting the final game of the regular season after the Saints already wrapped up the NFC's top seed. He re-signed with them in the offseason.

And he's feeling better than he ever has since arriving in the NFL.

"I (can) honestly say, 'This is the best that I've ever felt in my six years'" in the NFL, Bridgewater said Wednesday, per TwinCities.com. "I feel great mentally, physically and spiritually. So I'm looking forward to just going out there and competing, getting an opportunity to lead my troopers up and down the field and just have some fun playing football again."

While there's an argument to be made that Bridgewater should've taken the Dolphins' offer in free agency, there's also an argument to be made that staying with the Saints offers him the best chance at achieving long-term success as a starting quarterback in the NFL. 

For one, the Dolphins are dreadful and it would've been difficult for Bridgewater to be successful on a bad team. If Bridgewater had failed in Miami, he might not have gotten another chance to start. Two, Bridgewater might actually have a chance to be Brees' heir if Brees were to retire after the upcoming season, which isn't as far fetched as it sounds. Brees is 40 years old and his play deteriorated down the stretch last season. Three, even if Bridgewater doesn't get a chance to replace Brees, he is getting the chance to learn from both Brees and Sean Payton.

"As a competitor you want to be out there starting and competing," Bridgewater said earlier this summer, per NOLA.com. "But I just sat back and I weighed my options and thought about what would be best for me.

"This is an opportunity for me to grow, continue to learn and expand my mental capacity as a football player."

It's important to remember that Bridgewater is only 26 years old. He still has time to become a starting quarterback again. Even if he doesn't, given just how bleak his prognosis was three years ago, there's no shame in being one of the league's better backup quarterbacks. Who knows, maybe in two seasons when the Cousins contract expires, the Vikings will be searching for a cheaper quarterback with upside and a certain former quarterback of theirs will be looking for a team to give him the chance to start. 

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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