Former Louisville football quarterback and new Carolina Panther Teddy Bridgewater is seen nationally as a veteran signee to help the Panthers rebuild. Why he is so much more than that.
When Cam Newton left the field with an ankle injury in a 2019 preseason game, it’s hard to imagine Carolina Panthers fans foresaw it being his last time in their team’s uniform. But six months later, that is the reality that they will have to come to terms with. In Newton’s place, former first-round pick Teddy Bridgewater will look to pick up the pieces for a team that finished the season 5-11 and parted ways with their long-time head coach in the offseason.
Bridgewater moves over from New Orleans, where he started five games in 2019 in place of Drew Brees, earning himself a well-deserved 3-year $63 million contract.
Undoubtedly, Bridgewater is going to be the least talked-about acquisition in his division, and possibly in the league over the offseason. The player he is replacing is the best quarterback in franchise history by a wide margin.
Bridgewater’s counterparts in the division? Matt Ryan, former NFL MVP, former teammate Drew Brees, a Super Bowl MVP, and Tom Brady– six-time Super Bowl champion and widely considered the greatest player of all-time. No big deal.
The Panthers will have to play those three players six times in 2020, which means that they will have to find a way to turn things around in a hurry in order to call the upcoming year a success.
Here’s the problem. Carolina is in complete rebuilding mode. There are young pieces all over the roster, but they will lose Newton, and they lose eight of their 11 starters on the defensive side of the ball.
That means that, for Bridgewater, expectations are going to be low, and most fans will consider the 27-year-old’s three years with the team a holdover period until they can put the pieces in place to bring in a “big name” under center.
However, in the long run, I believe that Bridgewater can not only be the guy for Carolina but perhaps become one of the marquee players in the league going forward.
Carolina has a talented, young core and Bridgewater can speed up the learning curve
Led by budding do-it-all superstar Christian McCaffrey, the Panthers are young at the offensive skill positions, but they have the potential to be supremely talented.
It obviously starts with McCaffrey, who is a once in a generation type of running back in the Carolina backfield. McCaffrey is an every-down back who is a load to bring down, has breakaway speed, and had just shy of 7 catches per game out of the backfield.
McCaffrey was the league’s third-leading rusher last season and lead the league in catches and total yards receiving by a running back.
Bridgewater will be targeting two budding stars in the league in Curtis Samuel and DJ Moore.
DJ Moore was fifth in the league last season in receiving yards per game and is quickly becoming one of the most consistent receiving threats in the league. With the attention increasing for Moore, Curtis Samuel should continue to have an impact for the Panthers as a slot receiver and end-around, window dressing type of ball-carrier.
There is room for more talent around him
The Panthers currently have Bridgewater, back-up Will Grier, and Cam Newton on the roster. Newton is currently taking up $22 million in cap space- the most on the team.
When Newton finds a new home elsewhere, he is going to free up a ton of space for the Panthers to bring in a few more veterans like Bridgewater. Although Carolina is just below the league average in free space, they will be able to leverage Newton- who will be a starter wherever he goes- for another star player or two- Or, perhaps, snag a couple of early-round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft.
This feels like a perfect fit
Carolina is going to be projected as the last-place team in their division, and probably rightfully so given that the other three teams are winning big-time in free agency and boast future Hall of Fame quarterbacks.
That’s a perfect fit for Bridgewater, who has thrived in an underdog type of atmosphere. Carolina is a newer franchise in a smaller market with a rebuilding team that is parting ways with its greatest player ever.
It couldn’t feel more like a match made in heaven.
Bridgewater’s first NFL home, Minnesota, struggled to come to grips with letting go of their franchise QB, and his next two moves were teams attempting to add another locker room guy. With the Jets, Bridgewater was a mentor to then-rookie Sam Darnold, and he was an absolute hit in New Orleans, where he was certainly seen as a last-resort option before taking over and going undefeated in Drew Breese’s absence.
Now, Bridgewater will once again find himself in a situation where there are virtually no eyes on him nationally, and he is projected to be just a holdover until the Panthers can get their pieces in place to draft their future franchise guy.
But, what if he is the guy?
Bridgwater is a less than sexy pick-up (motorbike dance moves withstanding), but he is going to a franchise that has thrived off of having less than sexy players.
An offense tailormade for Teddy
Carolina parted ways with Ron Rivera in the offseason, and they picked up trendy college head coach Matt Rhule.
While it’s atypical of NFL franchises to dip into the college ranks, and said move is a risky one, Rhule seems like the perfect man for a rebuilding job. He did so in a less-than-ideal situation at Temple and horrifying circumstances at Baylor.
Now, Rhule is bringing a system that players and coaches want to be a part of to Charlotte.
Bridgewater chose Charlotte because of the aforementioned pieces in place, but also because of Rhule and new offensive coordinator Joe Brady, who is fresh off a national title run with Joe Burrow and LSU.
Brady’s schemes feel like a perfect fit for Bridgewater. He demonstrated this season at LSU that he needs a level-headed guy capable of quick decision-making. He doesn’t take a ton of shots downfield, but when he does, it typically is a play that relies on excellent timing with his receivers.
Bridgewater and Brady love to get into their playbooks and know every finite detail of each play, which is why Bridgewater is so adept at making quick decisions on mid-range passes or on check-downs to running backs.
Given the skillset of McCaffrey and Samuel in the short and mid-range passing game, Bridgewater and Brady could potentially have something special in the works on the field this season.
If you want to see more on what Bridgewater’s strengths were in 2019 and why that matters working with Joe Brady, check out this excellent breakdown by The Riot Report.
Bridgewater’s leadership ability is vastly underrated
Lastly, Bridgewater is an offensive genius, but he is also one of the greatest human beings in the league. He is a humble leader who has felt like a veteran presence in locker rooms dating back to Minnesota.
Bridgewater has learned under and alongside Charlie Strong, Mike Zimmer, Adrian Peterson, Kyle Rudolph, Sean Payton, Drew Brees, and so many others in just a five-year span. He survived an injury where doctors considered amputation, he saw his mother through a battle with breast cancer as a teenager and has overcome significant odds on a number of occasions to get to where he is.
The national narrative will be that Bridgewater will come in to bridge the gap, but will be gone from Carolina by the time his contract runs out in 2022. But he is so much more than a fill-in guy.
If you’ve followed Bridgewater’s story of endurance and resiliency over the last decade, you know how prepared he is to be a franchise quarterback. For the Carolina Panthers, Bridgewater could be the best thing that they never knew they wanted.