Report: Broncos Expected to 'Show Interest' in Trading for Panthers' QB Teddy Bridgewater

Could George Paton be on a mission to reunite with one of his former first-round draft picks in Minnesota?

In the wake of the Sam Darnold trade to the Carolina Panthers, the team's 2020 incumbent starting quarterback — Teddy Bridgewater — suddenly finds himself on thin ice. Bridgewater signed with the Panthers last year, arriving in Carolina on a three-year, $63 million deal. 

Alas, despite Bridgewater's relatively steady, solid play under center, the Panthers were among the league's worst teams — similarly to the Denver Broncos — and found themselves in the market for a potential QB upgrade. 

Enter Darnold. 

Exit Bridgewater. 

NFL insider Ian Rapoport reported on Tuesday that Carolina has given Bridgewater permission to seek a trade, and that news was followed up by a report much closer to home connecting the ex-Minnesota Vikings' first-round pick to the Broncos, a team whose GM knows Bridgewater well and could be, maybe, searching for a fail-safe at worst and an upgrade at best to Drew Lock. 

"[The] Broncos at very least, [are] expected to express interest in Bridgewater. But there would be wrinkles to iron out [the] acquisition price and his current salary. In theory, Denver could add Teddy and still draft QB in round one and move on from Lock. A lot of options to consider," Denver7's Troy Renck tweeted on Tuesday. 

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Indeed, Bridgewater would make a lot of sense for the Broncos, and not just because of his past ties to new Denver GM George Paton, who was in the Vikings' front office when he was drafted in 2014. Bridgewater would serve as a very good hedge against the distinct possibility of Lock failing to launch and turn the corner in 2021.

Head coach Vic Fangio wants a QB that can light up the scoreboard, sure, but he also wants one that isn't going to consistently put his defense in bad situations with short fields to defend after turnovers. For all his relative warts as a pro, the one thing Bridgewater has always done quite well is protect the ball. 

Bridgewater started 15 games last year, leading Carolina to a 4-11 finish. He got torched by Lock and the Broncos in Week 14 and finished the 2020 campaign with 3,733 passing yards and 15 touchdowns, with 11 interceptions, completing 69.1% of his passes. Compared to Lock's 57.3 completion percentage and league-leading 15 interceptions (tied with Carson Wentz for NFL's most), Bridgewater's relative competency could be quite attractive to Fangio, Paton, and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur. 

Bridgewater could serve as a good fail-safe for the Broncos and maybe even as a mentor to Lock, who's never really had a fellow QB peer on his team willing (and able) to take him under his wing and show him the ropes. Joe Flacco expressed his disinterest in tutoring Lock back in 2019 and the 2020 veterans Denver brought in behind Lock were Jeff Driskel (whose number of NFL starts could be counted on two hands) and Blake Bortles, whom the Broncos signed midseason and he never really stuck. 

The contract would be the biggest obstacle to overcome if the Broncos wanted to pursue Bridgewater, who's set to earn a $17M base salary in 2021 and comes with a blistering salary-cap number just shy of $23M. Bridgewater would have to be willing to seriously restructure his contract and Paton would have to be open to relinquishing whatever draft-pick compensation the Panthers are seeking in exchange. 

My guess? Carolina wants a fourth-round pick, but maybe the Broncos could whittle that down to a conditional fifth-rounder that could turn into a fourth if Bridgewater actually saw meaningful playing time. Paton has a comfortability with Bridgewater, even though his Vikings did not keep the former Louisville star around after his grievous knee injury in the 2016 offseason, which came on the heels of a Pro Bowl selection. 

Bridgewater would watch Case Keenum take over for an injured Sam Bradford in 2017 even though he worked his way back to the field by season's end. Pat Shurmur was there in Minnesota for Bridgewater's final two seasons so if he likes the veteran QB as an option, it could inform just how aggressive Paton gets on this potential trade. 

With rumors flying about Denver being a prime candidate to trade up with Atlanta for the No. 4 overall pick, it's anyone's guess what Paton ultimately opts to do. My guess is the first-year GM chooses to run it back with Lock as the penciled-in starter in 2021 with a veteran hedge behind him just in case. 

Bridgewater, 28 years old, fits that bill — if he's willing to take a pretty steep pay-cut. The Broncos do have $28.25M in cap space right now, ranking them No. 2 in the league behind only Jacksonville. 

If Paton strikes a deal with Carolina, and Bridgewater plays ball on a restructure, it's an accord that could happen with relative alacrity. 

Stay tuned. 

Follow Chad on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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