Brian Allee-Walsh

Teddy Bridgewater will be playing for more than just a meaningless Saints win Sunday

Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater makes a call during the Saints’ game at Cincinatti on Nov. 11.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater makes a call during the Saints’ game at Cincinatti on Nov. 11. New Orleans Advocate

Teddy Bridgewater will get to do something that few New Orleans Saints backup quarterbacks have done since Drew Brees’ arrival in the Big Easy in 2006.

Start a regular-season game and make No. 9 watch.

Saints coach Sean Payton made it official Friday, ending speculation that Brees would open under center against the Carolina Panthers in Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome (noon, FOX).

I anticipated Brees would make a cameo appearance then quickly give way to Bridgewater, if for no other reason than to compile 8 passing yards and reach the 4,000-yard mark for all 13 of his seasons in the Big Easy.

But Payton decided to err on the side of caution and rest Brees, who’s played a starring role in helping the 13-2 Saints defend their NFC South title, secure home-field advantage during the postseason and put them on the cusp of a franchise-best 14th victory.

That said, Brees will forfeit a chance to add to his MVP-caliber resume’ before a panel of 50 media members assigned by The Associated Press cast their ballots before the playoffs commence next weekend with NFC-AFC wildcard games Jan. 5-6.

Normally, I would have little interest in the Saints-Panthers game but am curious to see how Bridgewater performs in what amounts to a league-wide audition and what might be his only meaningful playing time before becoming a free agent in March.

I’m of the belief that Bridgewater will test free agency and find the appropriate compensation and a starting opportunity worthy of his ability, despite a lack of regular-season snaps since suffering a catastrophic knee injury during training camp in 2016 with the Minnesota Vikings.

And Bridgewater’s next opportunity likely won’t come in New Orleans, not with Brees still playing at an elite level on the eve of turning 40 (Jan. 15) and commanding a $33.5 million cap hit in ‘19.

Truth be told, I didn’t think Bridgewater would even break a sweat with the Saints this season, not based on Brees’ insatiable desire to play every snap and innate ability to stay healthy. Heck, Taysom Hill, the Saints’ Swiss army knife and their man for all positions, has thrown seven passes this season compared to one for Bridgewater.

It appears Bridgewater will get the vast majority of snaps against the 6-9 Panthers, who are in the midst of a seven-loss free fall. That in itself is a win for the player the Saints acquired from the New York Jets along with a sixth-round pick in return for a third-round pick in late August.

Playing opportunities don’t come around often for a backup QB in New Orleans. Consider Brees’ mind boggling numbers in 13 regular season in the Big Easy:

* He has started 205 of 205 games played., He has missed two games, only one because of injury (at Carolina in 2015). Coach Sean Payton also held Brees out of the regular-season finale at Carolina for precautionary reasons during the 2009 Super Bowl season. Both games resulted in losses.

* Only two players other than Brees have thrown a TD pass since 2006 — QB Jamie Martin in ‘06 and WR Willie Snead in 2015. Brees has thrown 440 of the team’s 442 TD passes in New Orleans since ‘06.

If this proves to be Bridgewater’s only legitimate opportunity to prove himself in New Orleans, I wish him well. He’s been a consummate pro, an exemplary teammate and a valued insurance policy for Brees.

Who knows? When all is said and done, Bridgewater might end up being the Saints QB-of-record in a franchise-record 14th regular-season win, win a Super Bowl ring and pocket $6 million.

Not bad work if you can get it.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.
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