With their humiliating loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Minnesota Vikings ended the competitive portion of their 2016 NFL season. This means that there will, undoubtedly, be no shortage of HAWT TAEKS about precisely why the Sam Bradford trade was a “failure” or a “bust” or what have you. Frankly, such criticism is completely short-sighted, particularly given Bradford’s performance in the conditions he’s been operating under.
According to our friend Tom Pelissero from USA Today, the Vikings have already made the decision to pay Bradford the bonus he’s due on the fifth day of the 2017 league year and go with him as the starting quarterback next season. This is the first reason why dumping on the Bradford trade at this juncture is ridiculous.
We don’t know when. . .or if. . .Teddy Bridgewater is going to be back.
Look, as I’ve said on numerous occasions, I would love nothing more than to see Teddy Bridgewater come back for next season and pick up where we all thought he was going to this season. He had looked so good this preseason and appeared to be ready for a serious leap in 2016, but that all fell apart. . .literally. . .on the practice field at the end of August. I think we’d all love to see #5 lead the team onto the turf at U.S. Bank Stadium for meaningful football in the near future.
While the Vikings and Bridgewater have put a brave face on things in public thus far, it’s hard for me to believe that the Vikings would have made the deal they made and paid the price they paid in the first place if they felt that Bridgewater was going to be ready for next season. I firmly believe that they made this deal with the thought in their minds that Bridgewater would not, in fact, be ready to play football in 2017. They surveyed everything and decided that Bradford would be a better option than whatever else would be available, absent a healthy Bridgewater, in 2017.
As far as I can tell, they appear to be correct in that assessment.
The in-house options for the Vikings aren’t great. We have Shaun Hill, who is the current backup and would be 39 years old at the start of the 2016 season. Arif did a pretty deep statistical dive into this over at Cold Omaha, and with all things considered, Hill would be a significant step down from Bradford. I don’t want to hear about how Hill went 1-0 this season as the starter. He won a game where the Vikings went 0-for-3 in the red zone against the Tennessee Titans and generated all their points on four Blair Walsh field goals and two defensive touchdowns. . .the same things that have been “unsustainable” with Bradford at quarterback.
There’s also Taylor Heinicke, who decided to celebrate his legitimate opportunity to be Bridgewater’s backup by kung-fu fighting his friend’s apartment door and showing up to camp with his foot in a cast. Sure, the Vikings like Heinicke, at least from what I’ve been led to believe. Does that mean anything? I don’t know. . .we haven’t seen him take a snap since the 2015 preseason finale. Regardless, as it stands now, Bradford represents a solid step up from either of the current in-house options.
“But Chris,” you might say, “What about any of the potential options from the outside?” Okay, let’s talk about those.
The folks from Spotrac have a list of the quarterbacks that could, potentially, be free agents following the 2016 season. There’s exactly one name on the list of free agents that has any intrigue, and that’s Kirk Cousins, who is currently the quarterback of the Washington Redskins. Sam Bradford is set to have a cap figure of $17 million next season. In the unlikely event that he even makes it to unrestricted free agency, you reckon you’re getting Kirk Cousins for less than “Sam Bradford money?” Because no. . .no, you are not. Spotrac has his market value at approximately $23.1 million/year, and then you’d likely have to pay more than that because there isn’t a damn other thing out there in free agency.
Case in point? The “next best” name on the list of free agent quarterbacks is 34-year old Ryan Fitzpatrick. Ryan Fitzpatrick is “got benched for Geno Smith and then got benched for Bryce Petty and will probably get benched again for Christian Hackenberg” awful. After that you’re probably looking at Case Keenum, who is also decidedly not good. The rest of the free agency list is full of has-beens and never-will-bes, certainly nobody you’d want to just hand the keys over to for the long-term.
So you aren’t going to find anyone in free agency that would represent an improvement over Bradford. What about the draft?
Looking at the prospect rankings from CBS Sports. . .and, admittedly, I haven’t done a ton of research into this year’s quarterback class on my own yet. . .there are three quarterbacks that are set to be taken in Round 1, and then the talent level appears to have a significant drop. Even if the Vikings were to be in a position to take a quarterback in Round 1, there’s no guarantee that said quarterback would be ready to play at a high level in the NFL immediately anyway. Besides, about half of the people that are griping about the Vikings not having a first-round pick are among those that will gleefully point out that Rick Spielman’s last two first-round picks haven’t produced a hell of a lot so far. Strange, that.
“But the Cowboys took Dak Prescott in the fourth round and look at how awesome he’s been!” Stop. Just stop. Stahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhp. Dak Prescott also plays behind an all-world offensive line. . .something that no rookie quarterback coming to Minnesota would inherit. Besides, have you looked at the list of quarterbacks that have been taken in the fourth round and beyond in recent draft history? For every Dak Prescott or Tyrod Taylor or Trevor Siemian, there’s at least a dozen Troy Smiths, John David Bootys, and Colt Brennans.
Should the Vikings emulate a Patriots-like strategy of taking a quarterback in the middle rounds of the draft every other year or so? I certainly think there are worse ideas. But it damn sure isn’t any sort of guarantee of success. And you certainly can’t convince yourself that someone that you take in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft is going to automatically walk in and take over an NFL franchise.
On top of all of that, Sam Bradford is probably playing the best football of his career in Minnesota this season. He just had his tenth game of completing more than 70% of his passes in a game where he had 20 completions or more. That ties him with Drew Brees for the most games in a season with such a statistical figure, and as I said in the beginning of this, given the circumstances he’s been dealt, it’s surprising that he’s been able to do that.
(Also, given his propensity for injury over his career, it’s surprising that he hasn’t gotten seriously messed up yet behind this offensive line, but that’s another discussion for another time. Now, let me go find several wooden objects to knock on.)
When Rick Spielman made the trade for Sam Bradford, he made it because he was under the impression that the Vikings were a contending football team. He was right. However, at the time he made the trade, the Vikings had all of their Opening Day starters on the offensive line, they had a healthy Adrian Peterson, and they had their coaching staff intact.
Since then, in the 13 games that Bradford has started, the Vikings have rolled out seven different offensive line combinations. They’ve had three different players see significant time at left tackle (Matt Kalil, T.J. Clemmings, Jake Long). They’ve had three different players see significant time at right tackle (Andre Smith, Clemmings, Jeremiah Sirles). They’ve had two different starters at center (Joe Berger, Nick Easton). Both of their starting guards have missed time. For crying out loud, at one point they had Willie Beavers playing meaningful snaps on the offensive line. That’s not a winning situation for any quarterback.
Add in that they were still playing the Norv Turner offense, which was predicated around running the ball with Peterson and seven-step drops off of play-action. Peterson and Bradford got to play exactly three quarters together before his injury, and then Turner decided to pull up stakes and leave town after seven games, moving control of the offense over to Pat Shurmur. Yes, I know that Shurmur and Bradford worked together in Philadelphia, but changing offensive schemes in the middle of the season is still not an ideal situation for any quarterback, or for any football team in general.
Yet Bradford has stood in and taken hits. He’s completed passes at a historically high rate. He’s doing it with an offensive line that can charitably be described as atrocious, and could very well be the worst offensive line I’ve seen put on the purple in 30+ years of being a fan. He’s done it with what’s going to end up being the worst Vikings’ rushing offense since the advent of the 16-game schedule, and will gain that distinction by quite a comfortable margin. The Vikings look like they’re going to have their first 1,000-yard receiver since 2009, and prior to today looked like they actually had an outside shot of getting two, and that’s almost entirely because of Sam Bradford. Honestly, if the offensive line was playing up to Sam Bradford’s level, this team wouldn’t be looking for ways to desperately cling to postseason hopes. They probably would have wrapped up a spot a long time ago.
I can understand why people are probably not terribly pleased at the present time that the Vikings aren’t going to have a first-round pick this April. Seriously, it’s going to make my March and April a hell of a lot less exciting, too, so I seriously feel your pain there. Are Philly fans going to gloat about getting a first-round pick for Sam Bradford? Sure they are. Let them. . .their team has more problems to worry about than Minnesota does. But even though this season has ended up being a disappointment after a fast start, the Vikings were pretty clearly looking beyond this season when they made the deal to acquire Sam Bradford. Frankly, it’s hard to argue that they didn’t make the right decision for this team going forward.