NEW YORK (AP) — Teddy Bridgewater refused to think about the possibility of never playing football again.
Not when he was clutching his mangled left leg and screaming in pain. Not during the nearly two years of intense rehabilitation that followed.
Bridgewater made it back from a gruesome knee injury in August 2016 to throw two passes in a game late last season for the Minnesota Vikings. Still on the comeback trail, the 25-year-old quarterback is now with the New York Jets and eager for his next opportunity.
“I’m not going to give a percentage or anything,” Bridgewater said of his health during a conference call Wednesday, “but I do believe that I’ll be able to perform at a high level.”
Speaking to reporters for the first time since signing a one-year deal with the Jets, he declined to give details about the status of his knee while simply saying, “I’m feeling good.” Bridgewater also said he’s “not comfortable” discussing whether he thought he’d be a full participant during organized team activities and minicamp this spring. Those conversations, he said, have to be done first with the Jets’ coaches and trainers.
“I’m very confident,” he said of regaining his form. “I’m confident in myself, confident in the athletic training staff and the coaching staff here, that they can eventually get me back to the player that I once was. At the same time, we’re only in March and the only way to get better is to put the work in now. I’m excited about this opportunity that I have to not only be a Jet, but to work with the group of guys on this team, with the staff that’s here.
“I just can’t wait. I’m excited.”
Bridgewater was a first-round draft pick out of Louisville in 2014 and was selected to the Pro Bowl after his second season with the Vikings. But during a practice the following summer, he suffered a non-contact injury in which he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and dislocated the knee joint. It sidelined Bridgewater for essentially two full seasons, other than those two passes — one was intercepted — he threw for the Vikings late in a 34-7 win over Cincinnati on Dec. 17.
“There was never any doubt in my mind that I would get to that point again,” Bridgewater said. “When I first stepped on that field for the first time last year, it was a great feeling to just know that everything, all the hard work that I put in, all the time and dedication that everyone who was involved in me overcoming what I overcame, it was just a great feeling.
“It was very rewarding to not only myself, but everyone who was involved in everything that I went through.”
Minnesota moved on from Bridgewater this offseason, allowing him to become a free agent while signing Kirk Cousins to a massive deal to be the Vikings’ new starting quarterback. It was a quiet ending to what Bridgewater hopes is just the first chapter of his NFL career.
“Right now, I have to continue to just focus on the present,” Bridgewater said. “I can’t look back. I enjoyed my time there, the fans are awesome and everyone there was top of the line, but I have to focus on the now and prepare myself for this upcoming season.”
Bridgewater joined the Jets because he said he liked the direction they are heading. His deal is worth $6 million, with a maximum value of $15 million with incentives, but includes just $500,000 in guaranteed money. In essence, Bridgewater is gambling on himself to show New York — and other NFL teams — that he can be at least close to the quarterback he was before the injury.
“It isn’t about proving to the people who counted you out or doubted you,” Bridgewater said. “It’s about proving to the people who believed in you and showing them that, hey, your prayers, your belief, it all paid off.”
Where Bridgewater will ultimately fit in the Jets’ plans is uncertain. They re-signed Josh McCown, the starter last season, to a one-year deal and he’s expected to enter the offseason program at No. 1 on the team’s depth chart. But while Bridgewater was on the call with reporters, Jets team brass was attending USC quarterback Sam Darnold’s pro day in Los Angeles.
New York traded up from No. 6 in this year’s draft to acquire Indianapolis’ pick at third overall. That means the Jets are likely focused on selecting one of the top quarterbacks available. They are attending the pro day for Wyoming’s Josh Allen later this week and have a workout scheduled with Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield on Saturday.
“Being a quarterback or just being an athlete, the ultimate competitor, as a player, I love competition,” Bridgewater said, “because it not only makes you better but it makes the team better.”
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