Addressing media at the NFL owners meeting, Zimmer said Bridgewater appeared to be progressing when he returned to practice in October, enough for the head coach to have the quarterback back up starter Case Keenum the final eight weeks of the 2017 season.
However, postseason reports from the Vikings medical staff belied Zimmer’s optimism.
“I thought he was doing good in practice,” Zimmer said. “The reports I’d get back from the medical people weren’t as positive as I was. That’s kind of how it came down was that his knee wasn’t … he still had some recovery to do. When I watched him in practice he moved well. I didn’t see limitations, but from what I was told there were some.”
Earlier this month, Bridgewater signed a one-year contract with the New York Jets, for only $500,000 guaranteed, to compete with Josh McCown and a potential rookie draft pick for the starting job at training camp.
Bridgewater was cryptic last week when New York reporters asked whether he would participate in offseason workouts, declining to answer questions about his health.
Zimmer and Bridgewater exchanged text messages after he signed with the Jets. The two have had a very close relationship after the Vikings drafted Bridgewater in the first round of the 2014 draft, only months after Zimmer accepted his first head coaching job.
“I always told him you and I are going to be together forever,” Zimmer said. “My career’s going to go as long as your career goes, but it just didn’t work out that way. I think he knows how I feel about him. Hopefully he feels the same way about me.”
Bridgewater suffered multiple ligament tears and extensive damage to his left knee in a noncontact drill during the penultimate practice of the 2016 preseason at Winter Park. The injury was so severe team medical staff and emergency room doctors raced to save Bridgewater’s leg from being amputated.
“After it happened, and I got the reports, I was concerned he may never play again,” Zimmer said. “Honestly, I didn’t think he’d walk again. This was a bad injury.”
Zimmer was questioned by several reporters Tuesday about Bridgewater’s future. He expressed more optimism that Bridgewater would be able to resume his career in New York.
“He came in every day ready to work with a smile on his face,” Zimmer said. “I loved being around him, the way he learns, the way he listens — I love everything about him. I think he’ll do good.
“I will always remember Teddy as the quarterback who finished 11-5 (in 2015) and beat Green Bay up there (in Week 17) for the (NFC North) division championship. So that part of was difficult.”