Teddy Bridgewater pursuit is proof Detroit Lions see themselves as real contenders

Detroit Free Press

Teddy Bridgewater’s free agent visit with the Detroit Lions came and went this week without a contract agreement.

The Lions have a starting quarterback in place they trust in Jared Goff, a backup Dan Campbell likes in Nate Sudfeld, and a future lottery ticket in Hendon Hooker who is taking things slowly in his return from a torn ACL.

The Lions still could sign Bridgewater, Campbell made that clear Tuesday. But even if they do, the best-case scenario is never having to see him play in a game.

Still, the Lions’ four-monthslong pursuit of the veteran quarterback is the latest clue to how they view themselves entering the 2023 season — as not just contenders in the NFC North, but challengers for something even bigger for maybe the first time in franchise history.

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“The fact we’re — here we go, man. We’re Year 3 and I think we’re in a much better position and you just, you want to know that you are in the best hands possible,” Campbell said. “I’ll leave it at that. But that’s also — it’s the competition. That doesn’t mean Nate’s out of anything if we go this route, and if it works out you’ll feel good about whoever comes out of the fire is going to be the right guy to help you along the way. But yeah, you don’t want the wheels to fall off.”

The wheels have fallen off many a past NFL contender because of a tenuous quarterback situation, and plenty of seasons have been saved by good backups, too.

The San Francisco 49ers rode their No. 3 quarterback to the NFC championship game last season. The Philadelphia Eagles won a ring six years ago with a backup at the helm. Trent Dilfer was a midseason replacement for Tony Banks when the Baltimore Ravens won their first Super Bowl. And a year later, the New England Patriots’ dynasty began when Tom Brady came off the bench to replace Drew Bledsoe.

Bridgewater is no Brady, of course, and the Lions don’t have a Ravens-like defense that only needs a caretaker on the other side of the ball.

But nine years into his NFL career, Bridgewater has proven to be an experienced hand capable of winning games and the Lions have the cap room and chutzpah to add him to their roster.

“I don’t think I’ve hidden anything about my feelings for Teddy Bridgewater,” Campbell said Tuesday. “So if we can add a guy like Teddy and bring competition to the room, I’m all for it.”

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The Lions have not been legitimate contenders for years, and their backup quarterback has often reflected their place in the standings.

They’ve cycled through erratic veterans and late-round projects, signing backup after backup to minimum-salary deals. David Blough, Tim Boyle, Jeff Driskel, Matt Cassel, Jake Rudock, Brad Kaaya and Kellen Moore are some of the not-so notables who’ve held the position in the past 10 years.

The last above-average backup the Lions signed was Shaun Hill, who they brought in to help mentor Matthew Stafford in 2010. Hill went 3-7 as an emergency starter when Stafford missed most of that season with a shoulder injury and 17-18 as a starter in his career.

Bridgewater’s record as a starter is only incrementally better (33-32), but he was a solid starter with the Minnesota Vikings before suffering a knee injury early in his career and has pit stops with the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins in recent years. Notably, Campbell was an assistant in New Orleans when Bridgewater was with the team in 2018-19.

A few months shy of his 31st birthday, Bridgewater remains capable of winning a game in a pinch, and keeping the offense respectable for a few weeks should something happen to Goff.

More than that, he represents the going-for-it approach the Lions have taken this offseason, one that’s fueled the massive expectations that surround the team — and one that fans should appreciate given the last time the Lions came off a season as promising as 2022.

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In 2012, with the Lions fresh from their first playoff appearance in more than a decade, with a young Stafford at quarterback, Calvin Johnson still in his prime and Ndamukong Suh wrecking opposing offensive lines, the Lions went into the offseason with hopes of being the NFL’s next big thing.

Then they spent meagerly in free agency, drafted uninspiringly — Riley Reiff in Round 1, and an injured Ryan Broyles in Round 2 — and watched the previous year’s draft class of Nick Fairley, Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure implode.

This offseason, the Lions signed three starters for their secondary (though two, Emmanuel Moseley and C.J. Gardner-Johnson, are currently injured) and followed it up with a promising draft. Sure, the Lions may have overdrafted Jahmyr Gibbs, Jack Campbell and Sam LaPorta based on position value, but all three will play sizable and immediate roles this fall.

Following those additions up by signing Bridgewater won’t guarantee the Lions anything except having more insurance for Goff, but it’s good to know the Lions are finally in a position to value that after years of neglect.

“We’ve kept in touch with Teddy, and we’ve kept Nate abreast of that, too,” Campbell said. “We haven’t hidden anything. And so, (his visit) went good. Got us a chance to sit down with him face to face, particularly” offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell and general manager Brad Holmes, “and gets me face to face with him again. And then just the medical, so it was good. It was a good visit. We’ll see where it goes.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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