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Spielman: Vikings Want to Find Long-Term Solution at Quarterback

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Vikings have multiple decisions to make at quarterback.

Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater and Case Keenum all have contracts that are scheduled to end next month, which has prompted waves of speculation and scenarios, but the primary goal is clear.

Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman and Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf each recently spoke to reporters about the quarterback situation, and both noted the objective is to have a long-term solution at that position.

"That's always the goal, but you can't predict injuries," Spielman said last week at a roundtable chat at the Mall of America. "I can't predict the thing that happened with Teddy. Sam comes in and plays 16 games completely healthy and then lights up the scoreboard in the opener against New Orleans and plays one of the best games I've ever seen him play and doesn't play the rest of the year except for that Chicago game. 

"But that's the ultimate plan, whether it's the quarterback position or any other position, that you're making that decision for the long haul and not a short-term solution," Spielman added. "One thing you can't predict is that you can't predict injuries."

Minnesota entered the 2017 season with Bradford as the starter and Keenum as the backup while Bridgewater continued to rehab from a 2016 injury.

That pecking order lasted just one game.

Bradford started the opener and threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns against New Orleans but also suffered a knee injury.

Enter Keenum, who was thrust into the starting role after being signed as a free agent in the offseason.

Keenum threw for 3,547 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions while Bradford and Bridgewater also saw action for the Vikings.

Minnesota claimed Kyle Sloter off waivers from Denver in early September, signing him to the practice squad and then promoting him.

Wilf said the Vikings went through a process in deciding to sign Keenum as a free agent a year ago, and noted the front office will follow a similar protocol and mindset when evaluating signal-callers this time around.

"We still have to trust the process," Wilf said. "You look at last year, we went through a process in free agency and picked up Case Keenum as a backup quarterback.

"That probably, many people would say, might be the second-most important position on your football team. It's about really getting through the process and trusting it," Wilf added. "You're going to have aberrations all over the board. You look this year and the surprises at who was at the quarterback position in the final four teams. We trust the process and evaluate the right kind of players, and we'll see how it works out."

Each quarterback has had success in Purple while under center for the Vikings.

Minnesota won the NFC North in 2015 with Bridgewater at the helm before capturing another division title in 2017 with Keenum as the starter. Bradford, meanwhile, set a then-NFL record for completion percentage in a season (71.6 percent) while adjusting on the fly to a September trade and playing behind an offensive line that struggled with injuries and inconsistency.

Spielman and Wilf each praised Bridgewater's ability to come back from a devastating knee injury suffered in August of 2016 that nearly ended his career. The former first-round pick made his return to the field in Week 15 of Minnesota's win over Cincinnati.

"Every player is unique and special, but Teddy … I've been inspired with how he's come back from this injury and how he kept his head high throughout," Wilf said. "It shows a lot of leadership and character.

"We knew that before the injury, and we saw it even more in the last year and a half," Wilf added. "Great individual, and we're proud and inspired with how he's come back."

Added Spielman: "I think he's worked extremely hard and been an inspiration. Just to see him out there practicing every day, you see him getting more and more comfortable."

In a 20-minute session with reporters, Spielman acknowledged the unique quarterback situations the Vikings have navigated in recent seasons.

Because of that, Spielman said, building plenty of depth will also be an offseason priority along with figuring out who the starter will be. The Vikings have already checked one box off their list as they hired John DeFilippo as the team;s new Offensive Coordinator on Friday morning.

"With our situation, quarterback depth has been pretty important," Spielman said. "Then you look at other teams around the league, and guys never miss. 

"For whatever reason, we've had to go through some injuries at that position," Spielman added. "We're always trying to be aggressive, just from the history we've had at that position over the last few years, to make sure we have as much depth as possible." 

Although Spielman is aware of the scenario that lies in front of him, he said he is not surprised by it.

When the Vikings traded for Bradford 17 months ago and then signed Keenum this past offseason, they knew a choice would eventually have to be made.

"Regardless of who the quarterback is, we have planned for this two years back," Spielman said. "We don't just start planning for this year on our cap. There's a process in place for everything we do, and it's done very thoroughly, and it's also is looking out into the future.

"Knowing as these players develop and become good players you don't want to lose, we're targeting guys … two years from now, we're going to have to pay this guy," Spielman added. "I never want to get into the mode of 'All-in this year,' because I don't want to start back over again. It's always looking to not only put the best plan on the field this year, but also can we keep these players for year after year?"

That's the goal the Vikings aspire to reach at each position each spring, but especially at quarterback entering the 2018 offseason.

"That's certainly your dream scenario and something we're always working on," Wilf said of finding a long-term answer. "It's a matter of trusting the process, but we'll work with what's in front of us. Who's on our roster, who's out there, who can we draft?

"There are a lot of moving parts, but as ownership, we have a lot of confidence that we have the right people monitoring that," Wilf added.

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