Nearly reunited in Detroit, Lions' Campbell, Broncos' Bridgewater share admiration

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — There's clearly a mutual admiration shared between Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell and Denver Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and had circumstances been slightly different, the two might have ended up paired together in Detroit this season. 

When the Lions put Matthew Stafford on the trade block this offseason, at the quarterback's request, the Carolina Panthers were among the most aggressive bidders. According to multiple reports, the Panthers' offer centered around the No. 8 pick in April's draft, but also included a fifth-round selection and Bridgewater, who had signed a three-year, $63 million contract with the team as a free agent the previous offseason. 

Broncos quarterback Teddy Bridgewater could have wound up in Detroit.

Not surprisingly, the offer appealed to the Lions, brining back a premium draft asset and an experienced veteran quarterback. But the NFL Network reported Stafford nixed the talks, steering the Lions toward his eventual destination, Los Angeles. 

And while it's debatable which package was better, the Lions still netted an excellent return from the Rams, scoring two first-round choices (2022, 2023) a third-rounder in 2021 that turned into cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu, as well as the experienced veteran QB they desired in Jared Goff. 

Missing out on Stafford, the Panthers settled for upside at the quarterback position, trading for former first-round pick Sam Darnold in April. And later that month, they parted with Bridgewater, shipping him to Denver in a salary dump for a mere sixth-round pick. 

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Denver, like the Lions, finished 5-11 last season. But with Bridgewater at the helm, the team is in playoff contention in 2021, sitting at .500 through 12 games, a game back of the final seed in the standings. He's played a key role in the improvements, stabilizing the team's quarterback play by completing 67.3% of his passes and posting a 95.0 passer rating. 

The Lions, meanwhile, fully embraced a rebuild with the departure of Stafford. They sit at 1-10-1 on the year after earning their first victory last Sunday against the Vikings. 

Would things have been different had the Lions not acquiesced to Stafford's desires and taken the Panthers' offer? It's impossible to say, especially without knowing how they would have used the second first-round pick this year. That unanswerable debate will be left to sports talk radio and Twitter.

As it is, the Lions must now focus on defending Bridgewater in an effort to build on the momentum from last week's win. 

"I’ve got a lot of respect for Teddy Bridgewater because I think he’s a winner in this league," Campbell said. "Man, he’ll hurt you in play action pass. He’s going to be smart with the football. Even what happened last week, they can possess the ball. We’ve got our hands full defensively."

Campbell and Bridgewater's relationship dates back to New Orleans, where the quarterback spent two seasons reviving his career after suffering a severe leg injury on the practice field in Minnesota in 2016 that nearly ended his career and cost him his leg.

During that stint with the Saints, Campbell was blown away by Bridgewater's ability to lead, despite being the team's backup behind future Hall of Famer Drew Brees. 

"He made everybody around him better," Campbell said. "He was a guy that on Saturdays would pull all of the young guys out. He was our backup quarterback, so he would take all of the young guys, all of the practice squad guys, any of the backups, and he would take them out and go through the whole game plan with them and run the routes, talk through them, talk to them, tell them what he wanted, everything.

"Not only is he going through the game plan himself to prepare, he’s making these young guys grow," Campbell said. "He’s developing these young guys. He was ultra-competitive on practice squad. Our defense hated him. They had friendly wagers on who would connect, who wouldn’t, who would score, who wouldn’t. It was very competitive, but he made everybody around him better. That to me, that’s a sign of a winner.”

Campbell, who both coached the tight ends and served as Saints assistant head coach at that time, also impressed Bridgewater, particularly the coach's ability to motivate. 

Lions head coach Dan Campbell is a fan of Teddy Bridgewater.

"He’s awesome," Bridgewater said. "His energy is contagious, and I’m pretty sure those players in Detroit love playing for him. I was able to spend those two years with him in New Orleans, and the things that he was able to do with those tight ends in that room —whenever he stood in front of the team and talked, you’re ready to just storm out of that meeting and punch a guy in the face for no reason."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers