The New Orleans Saintspulled off a bit of a surprise on Wednesday when they shipped a 2019 third-round pick to the New York Jets in exchange for quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a 2019 sixth-round selection. The move not only upgrades the Saints' QB2 spot, but it also provides coach Sean Payton with a young signal-caller to groom as a successor to Drew Brees.
With that in mind, here are three reasons why the Bridgewater trade is a great move for the Saints:
1) Bridgewater gives the Saints a solid QB2 with long-term QB1 potential.
The Saints have been searching for a QB2 with the talent and potential to succeed Drew Brees for years. The team hasn't found a solid developmental prospect in either the draft (think of Garrett Grayson, a third round pick in 2015, or Sean Canfield, a seventh-rounder in 2010) or in free agency (think of Chase Daniel or Luke McCown). With Tom Savage (career passer rating of 72.5) and special-teams standout Taysom Hill (who is intriguing based on his talent as a utility player but not ready to be a QB2 on a team in the hunt for a Super Bowl title) currently on the depth chart behind Brees, they turned to the trade market.
Although Brees is signed through 2019, New Orleans needs to have a succession plan in place, given that the perennial Pro Bowler will turn 40 next January. Bridgewater would certainly appear to be a solid replacement as a young quarterback (25) with significant starting experience (28 regular-season starts) and a playoff pedigree. The one-time Pro Bowler has not only guided a franchise to the postseason, but he did it as a youngster in a Vikings offense that was conservative by nature. Sure, his career numbers aren't eye-popping at first glance (he has a 64.7 percent completion rate and a 28:22 touchdown-to-interception ratio), but he played "winning" football (low turnovers, smart decisions) for a defensive-oriented squad.
While the pedestrian stats and conservative style of play have led many to suggest Bridgewater is merely a game manager, I think it is important to remember he was a prolific passer at Louisville. He completed 68.4 percent of his passes for 9,817 yards and a 72:24 TD-to-INT ratio for the Cardinals during an impressive three-year run that included a Big East title and Big East Offensive Player of the Year (2012) honors.
As a prospect, Bridgewater certainly exhibited traits of a franchise quarterback (leadership, poise, judgment, anticipation, timing and accuracy). A pocket passer for a team that employed a wide-open offensive scheme, he distributed the ball quickly and efficiently to his playmaker on the outside on a series of quick-rhythm throws inside the numbers. Bridgewater consistently strung together completions and rarely made costly mistakes with the ball.
He continued to display those traits as a passer for the Vikings and, most recently, the Jets, with whom he was undertaking a comeback from a devastating knee injury that wiped out his 2016 season. Bridgewater's combination of poise, anticipation, timing and accuracy have stood out in the preseason, as evidenced by his 73.7 percent completion rate and 2:1 TD-to-INT ratio in three games. I know preseason stats don't count, but how Bridgewater has played matters, and the Saints' evaluators certainly saw a player with QB1 potential.
Some might snicker at the notion of Bridgewater being a QB1, based on concerns about his arm strength. But playing in the NFC South, which includes a pair of domes (New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome and the Atlanta Falcons' Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and some mild-weather cities (Charlotte and Tampa), will make that a non-issue going forward.
2) Sean Payton is the perfect play-caller for Bridgewater.
To operate at a high level, the overwhelming majority of quarterbacks in the NFL need a creative play-caller in their corner. Payton is arguably one of the best offensive minds in the business, as evidenced by the Saints' six No. 1 rankings in total offense during Payton's tenure thus far (2006, 2008, 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016) and a pair of top finishes in scoring offense (2008 and 2009).
Some would attribute the Saints' success to Brees. But there is no disputing Payton's influence on the 11-time Pro Bowler's game when you look at the tape. The Saints have carefully crafted a scheme around Brees' talents as a pinpoint passer with A-plus arm talent while accounting for declining arm strength in recent years. The team has featured a number of vertical concepts in the game plan, but the Saints traditionally target the middle of the field on a variety of seams and skinny post-routes. In addition, they have a diverse horizontal passing game with an assortment of crossing routes and option concepts designed to get Brees easy completions within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.
I believe Bridgewater's playing style and approach are similar to those of Brees. Although Bridgewater is a lesser talent, he is an accurate passer adept at working the short and intermediate areas of the field on quick-rhythm throws. Bridgewater makes sound decisions with the football and is at his best when playing like a pass-first point guard from the pocket. He is a distributor at heart. The Saints' play-caller will tap into those skills by putting him in an offense that features a number of spacing reads and triangle concepts designed to get the ball out of his hands quickly.
With Bridgewater showing the football world that he has rediscovered his game as a rhythm passer during his time with the New York Jets, the marriage between Payton and his new QB2 looks like a match made in football heaven.
3) The Saints' supporting cast could elevate Bridgewater's game.
So much of a quarterback's success depends on the supporting cast around him. And the Saints have the right kind of weaponry in place. From their dynamic running back tandem (which I've previously called the "G.O.A.T" among RB duos), to their big-bodied WR1 with the sticky hands and spectacular ball skills, to their rock-solid offensive line, the Saints have A-level talent at the key positions needed to elevate the play of the quarterback.
For a pinpoint "dink and dunk" passer like Bridgewater, the presence of a dominant running game sets up big-play opportunities on the outside off play-action fakes. In addition, the explosive playmaking ability of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in the passing game will help him terrorize defenses intent on taking away his top target (Mike Thomas) or his deep threat (Ted Ginn Jr.) with screens and option routes out of the backfield. Kamara, in particular, could be a vital weapon for Bridgewater when it comes to targeting overmatched linebackers in space. The second-year pro is a nightmare to contain in the open field, and Payton's clever play designs will get No. 41 plenty of one-on-one matchups
On the outside, Thomas is a strike-zone expander with the size, length and ball skills to win 50-50 balls down the field. No. 13's presence could encourage Bridgewater to be a more aggressive thrower. With Ginn also capable of winning the outside as a vertical playmaker, the Saints' new QB2 could become a more prolific scorer.